Essential Reading

'I have been a family historian for more than 40 years, and a professional historian for over 30, but as I read it, I was constantly encountering new ways of looking at my family history....Essential reading I would say!' Alan Crosby, WDYTYA Magazine

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

New Review of Miss Weeton: Governess and Traveller


Miss Weeton: Governess and Traveller,


(Wigan Archive, 2016). 

edited by Alan Roby, 

with an Introduction by Ruth A Symes


Read this Great Review 

in The Methodist Recorder, June 2018




Miss Weeton, Governess and Traveller  ISBN 978-1-5262-0553-7



Written in solitude, Miss Nelly Weeton’s letters, journal entries and other autobiographical writings reveal a formidable woman as they vividly transport the reader through Georgian England.  With breathtaking cathartic candour, she reveals the sources of her protracted pain through years of betrayal, intimidation, humiliation and greed.

When her sea captain father was mortally wounded in the American War of Independence, her heart-broken mother removed from Lancaster to Up Holland village, near Wigan, to begin a new life with her two children.  At the age of 31, daughter Nelly finally broke free from the myopic discouragement of those closest to her.  Armed only with determination, a passion for literature and an unshakeable piety, she left the ‘licentious’ village of Up Holland, to eventually gain employment in the homes of the gentry.

With a penchant for excitement and adventure, Miss Weeton rivetingly describes her high risk ‘outside’ stage coach journey to and from London, and her walking and climbing excursions around the Isle-of-Man and North Wales. Her lone ascents of both Snaefell and Snowdon, supported only by a parasol and slippery-soled leather shoes, remain amazing feats of endurance.
On the 5th of June 1812, fortified by three boiled eggs, a crust of bread and wearing a slouch straw hat, a grey stuff jacket, with her map and memorandum book in a bag, she boldly ‘sallied forth’ alone for 35 miles . . .




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Monday, 18 June 2018

Funny Weather For The Time of Year! - What Your Ancestors' Weather Diaries Might Tell You About Them


‘The Thermometer in the Vestibule’ – Your Ancestors' Weather Diaries

The British weather always provides a talking point and we Brits are more than usually excited at the moment because we are experiencing an unexpected  - and very welcome - heatwave. Perhaps you are keeping a record in photographs or on social media of these glorious days ? 
Your ancestors were equally interested in the machinations of the weather and how wind, rain and sunshine affected so many aspects of their lives. Before the foundation of the Meteorological Office in 1854 (and sometimes thereafter when the network of weather stations was still very small), many people kept detailed daily diaries in which they recorded not only the general aspect of the weather but also matters such as the temperature, rainfall and atmospheric pressure. And many people kept a close record of the weather in more ordinary diaries, letters and other communications too.





Weather Vane, Skipton Church, North Yorkshire. Weather vanes or ‘anemometers’ which measure wind speed and direction were first invented in the mid fifteenth century.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It’s easy to dismiss references to the weather in our ancestor’s writings as of little interest. But, the fact that such entries were kept so copiously reminds us that the weather obviously held even more importance for our ancestors than it does for us today. With few official sources of meteorological information, a weather diary could be very useful in predicting likely conditions from one year to the next. More people in the past worked on the land and bad weather inevitably meant poor harvests and consequently the very real fear that less food would be available. A period of aridity or too much rain might have led to the ruination of crops and consequent rises in local food prices. Concerns in diaries about extremely cold weather at Christmastime were very real; vulnerable family members or neighbours might be considered at real risk at these times since low temperatures inevitably brought higher rates of mortality.


And, the weather will have circumscribed your ancestor’s life in many other ways too even if the exact connections are not made explicit in the diary. Heavy rain or snow, for instance, might have made roads impenetrable on foot or by horses preventing visits to family or business trips – where today no such interruption to ordinary life would occur. As Rachel Anne Ketton, of Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk put it in her diary on Monday 1st February 1869, ‘A very windy mild morning which turned to rain in the afternoon and prevented John meeting Mr Motts at Kelling as had been agreed,’ and her diaries go on to record many other occasions when plans were thwarted or had to be altered because of the weather.
Rain: How much did the weather shape your ancestor’s daily life and character?

Credit: Girl’s Own Paper, Vol VIII, No. 378, March 26, 1887.

Scientific Leanings or Religious Beliefs

For some diarists, detailing the patterns of the weather was primarily a matter of scientific endeavour. It was an exercise which gave them a reason to experiment with fledgling measuring devices such as thermometers (temperature), barometers (air pressure), hygrometers (air moisture levels) and anemometers (wind speed). Samuel Milford, an Exeter banker, for example, kept diaries from 1775, and these are believed to be some of the earliest consistently to record temperature and pressure. Another early weather diarist was pharmacist Luke Howard (1772-?) who, in 1802, used his observations of the weather to create a system for naming different cloud shapes (the basics of which were cirrus, cumulus and stratus). And a third scientifically-inclined weather diarist was Sir Francis Beaufort (1774-1857) who created the Beaufort scale (a measure for describing wind intensity based on observed sea conditions). For women, keeping a weather diary could be one way of exercising scientific skills in a world in which they were effectively barred from working as professional scientists.  
A Wheel or Banjo Barometer made between 1825 and 1850 by Barnasconi, Leeds. Early barometers used mercury. Aneroid or fluidless barometers were in invented in 1843. 
Credit: Kept in the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. Wikimedia Commons.


Whilst many weather diarists saw the world through a scientific lens, however, others believed the weather to be fundamentally attributable to Divine powers. In the diaries of these writers, terrible storms were put down to God’s wrath, and beautiful summer days attributed to His pleasure. An anonymous diarist in Sheffield in 1843 recorded how a drunk was struck blind by a thunderbolt in a local hostelry during a particularly bad storm and put this down to its being a  punishment for his blasphemy (www.sheffielddiary.blogspot.co.uk).

Social history

A weather event might have been considered particularly worthy of note by an ancestor in a diary if it co-incided with an event of national importance such as the coronation of a monarch, for example.  And weather also contributed to the success or failure of many local events and activities, such as parades, fetes, harvests, competitions, and church outings. You can potentially corroborate your ancestors’ accounts of the weather both in the metropolis and in the locality by looking at newspapers covering the same area at the same time. Many of these give a daily forecast as a matter of course. (See the fee-paying site www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk for digitised copies of many national and local papers)   The Meteorological Office has also provided some useful online fact sheets which give detail about the weather on certain key dates in history such as the day the Titanic set sail and the days of Royal Weddings, which make useful comparison pieces to personal diaries (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/library/publications/historical-facts).
The Modbury Weather Diaries (1788-1867) were kept first by John Andrews Snr between 1788 and 1822 and then by John Andrews Junior between 1831 and 1868. Weather diarists led less mobile – and less distracted -  lives than we do today, a fact which allowed them more easily to take temperature and pressure readings every day (at exactly the same time and in exactly the same place, sometimes twice a day and sometimes more often) and also to record a whole myriad of other weather-related issues such as daily rainfall levels, the varying times of sunrise and sunset, and the ‘ages’ of the moon.

Credit: Image used with the permission of the National Meteorological Library and Archive..Weather Diaries 1825 - 1867


A good example of a diary which intertwines comments on the weather with the social history of a local area is that by William Bulkeley of Anglesey  (1691-1760)

Gentleman William Bulkeley lived in Brynddu, Llanfechell on Anglesey, North Wales. There are two extant volumes of his diaries. The first covering the years from 1734-1743, and the second covering 1747-1760. A third missing volume would have bridged the gap between the two. Bulkeley always included comments on the weather alongside his accounts of activity in his neighbourhood such as markets and fairs, football matches and events relevant to his work as a squire of LLanfechell and as a Justice of the Peace. Bulkeley’s diary can now be viewed  at the University of Bangor North Wales.  



Gardens and Homes

The study of recurring plant and animal behaviour in relation to the seasons is known as phenology – and this pseudo-science is very much to the forefront in some weather diaries. In the so-called ‘Cobham diaries,’ (1825-1867), Miss Caroline Molesworth, for example, included special columns of text (labelled ‘Observations Relating to Animals’ and Observations Relating to Plants’) in which she recorded noteworthy aspects of life in her garden. On April 20th 1841, for example, she wrote, ‘Nightingales heard at night’ and ‘Cuckoos heard,’ and in the same month, she mentions, ‘gnats,’ ‘frogs croaking’ and  ‘a gold cover of crocuses’). There are other entries which show her knowledge of scientific and botanical terms, ‘Tremella Mesenterica’ and ‘Helleboreus Lividus,’ for example, are used rather than the more colloquial ‘Witches’ Butter’ (a yellow fungus) and ‘Christmas Rose.’ These are the moments at which the sounds, smells and sights of Moleworth’s world really come to life. Such diaries have enabled garden historians to see at what time seasonal crops such as potatoes and strawberries were ready to be harvested in years gone by, and at what times in particular years in the past certain birds or animals first made an appearance.
Page from the Cobham Weather Diaries kept by Miss Caroline Molesworth between 1825 and 1867. The diary is organised into ruled columns one of which delightfully records the temperature on the ‘thermometer in the vestibule’, a detail which gives an unexpected insight into the furnishing of a rural domestic interior in the Victorian era.

Credit: Image used with the permission of the National Meteorological Library and Archive.

More surprisingly, comments on the weather in diaries often give detail about the domestic interiors of our ancestors’ worlds – spaces which would otherwise have been lost to history. As well as mentioning ‘the thermometer in the vestibule,’ Caroline Molesworth remarks on the growing severity of the weather in January 1841 by commenting first that the windows are ‘dewed outside’, then ‘dewed inside,’ then  ‘iced,’ and then that ‘the water is frozen in [the] bedroom and in the dog’s pan in the vestibule’ reminding us of a world without the luxuries of central heating, double glazing, or piped water in upstairs rooms. 



Character and Mental State

Our ancestors’ diaries show how they were constantly called upon to display great fortitude in their battles against the elements. The Rev. Kilvert’s diary entry for Sunday 13th February 1870, for example, comments that the day was so cold that he  ‘went to Bettws in the afternoon wrapped in two waistcoast, two coats, a  muffler and a mackintosh, and was not at all too warm… when I got to the Chapel my beard, moustaches and whiskers were so stiff with ice that I could barely open my mouth and my beard was frozen on to my mackintosh.’ Worse still, he had to baptise a baby in a font in which ice was floating!

If you are particularly lucky, an account of the weather might also have been used by an ancestor to illuminate an aspect of his or her interior life and feelings. Grey or wet days, for example, were sometimes lengthily recorded to emphasise the diarist’s own grief after a bereavement, thunderstorms mentioned to reflect his or her inner torment or anger at a failed love affair or thwarted scheme, and sunny weather to accentuate pleasant aspects of life such as falling in love or having a child. Rachel Anne Ketton is most voluble on the storms outside when her (surely hypochondriac?) husband is suffering from terrible toothache or a pain in his leg! Equally weather details might be used in poignant contrast to the diarist’s own emotions.   

In whatever way it mentions rain, snow and sunshine, any family diary that frequently describes the vagaries of the weather must remind us that, for our ancestors,  such matters were not merely an incidental backdrop to lives, rather they determined the entire quality of those lives in ways that we have almost forgotten.



NB: The Milford, Howard, Beaufort, Cobham and Modbury diaries mentioned above are held at the National Meteorological Archive, Devon

This article first appeared in Discover Your Ancestors Online Magazine

Useful books and websites

Alistair Dawson, So Fair and Foul a Day: A History of Scotland’s Weather and Climate, Birlinn, 2009.

A. Martin, Scotland’s Weather: An Anthology, National Museums of Scotland, 1995.

Patrick Nobbs, The Story of the British and Their Weather: From Frost Fairs to Indian Summers, Amberley Publishing, 2016.

Paul Simons, Since Records Began: The Highs and Lows of Britain’s Weather, Collins 2008

The Met Office, The MET Office Book of the British Weather, David and Charles, 2010.

https://digital.nmla.metoffice.gov.uk/ Meteorological Office Digital Library and Archive

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wea.469/pdf Traditional weather observation in the UK

Devon Heritage Centre and National Meteorological Archive http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/library/about-us







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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Fathers' Day Gift - Find Out More About the Fathers in Your Family

June 17th is Fathers' Day UK

Find Out More About the Fathers in Your Family History

Family First: Tracing Relationships in the Past,

by Ruth A Symes (Pen and Sword, 2016)




Chapter One looks at:

- fathers in photographs
- male age at marriage, meanings of marriage for men, becoming a father
- the role of fathers in the family
- fatherly status
- the changing role of fathers in the twentieth century
 - how you might find out the father of a child if his name is not mentioned on the birth certificate
- posthumous fathers







Blurb:

Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents - these are the relationships that structure the family tree and fascinate the family historian. But how much do we really know about how our ancestors lived out these multiple roles? Buffeted this way and that by economic developments, legal changes, medical advances, Two World Wars, the rise of the Welfare State, women's emancipation and many other factors, relationships between members of our family in the past were subtly different to those of today and continually transforming. This book is both a social history of the period 1800-1950 and a practical guide on how to set about tracing and better understanding the relationships between members of your own family. What did it mean to be a father in this period, but also, how might you discover the father of an ancestor if his name is not mentioned on the birth certificate? What common ideas were held about the role of wives and mothers, but also, how were multiple births, stillbirths, abortions and infanticides dealt with in the records? What factors might have influenced the size of your ancestor's family, but also why were its children named as they were? Did pecking order in a family matter, but also, was it legal to marry a cousin, or the sister of a deceased wife? How long could people expect to live, but also what records can tell you more about the circumstances of your ancestors' last years? A final chapter considers relationships with neighbours, friends and club associates.

'I have been a family historian for more than 40 years, and a professional historian for over 30, but as I read it, I was constantly encountering new ways of looking at my family history....Essential reading I would say!' Alan Crosby, WDYTYA Magazine








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Monday, 11 June 2018

My new article on the Bronte Family Tree: Emily Bronte's 200th Anniversary


See my article on the mysteries of the Bronte Family Tree in this issue of Family Tree Magazine UK

 Out Now in a newsagent near you!

Plus lots of other fascinating articles on the women in your family in the past.




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Thursday, 3 May 2018

New (Replica) Suffrage Brooch - Stunning Design - Now Available


Celebrate Women's Suffrage with this gorgeous newly-available replica pin.

£12.50 plus free postage and packing (within the UK)
Comes in free purple velvet pouch



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Enamel Reproduction NUWSS Suffragette Stick-Pin Badge / Brooch, a Faithful Replica of the Original (By Portrayer Publishers).


High-quality modern reproduction enamel badge, brand new.

Size: Badge circle diameter: 22mm
Length (badge and stick pin together): 55mm.
This badge is a replica of an original of the period, an enamel badge issued by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), displaying the organisation’s official colours of red, white and green. The text reads:
"National Union of Womens Suffrage Societies Constitutional Non Party".

Attaches to clothes safely by the stick-pin (the bottom of which - the bell cap - "pushes on" firmly).

The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), also known as the Suffragists, was an organisation of women's suffrage societies in the United Kingdom. The organisation was democratic, and devoted itself to achieving women's suffrage (the Vote for Women) through peaceful and legal means.

The perfect gift for any woman with a mind of her own! :o)

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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Royal Birth - In Third Place: Did Pecking Order Matter in Your Family History ?


This article was first published in Discover Your Ancestors Bookazine, 2018

royal baby, Prince George, royal infants, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Duchess of Cambridge
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge leaving hospital with Prince George, after his birth in July 2013.
Credit: By Ashley Mott via Wikimedia Commons

With the forthcoming birth of a third child to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, a child’s position in the pecking order of a family has resurfaced as a popular topic of conversation. Whether the new child will be the youngest of three or a middle child in an even larger family remains to be seen. But what will its position in the birth order signify? And how has pecking order in families – royal or otherwise – mattered in the past?

Alfred Adler (1870-1937), an Austrian psychiatrist was one of the first theorists to suggest that birth order might have an effect on the habitual way in which a person deals with relationships, romantic love and work – some of the key concerns of the family historian. Since then, research into the effects of birth order has been extensive if inconclusive.  You might not believe that the position of your ancestor in his or her family mattered to him or her all, but what might have been of significance is the way in which his or her position in the family was perceived by others and, in particular by his or her parents.

It has been suggested (by medical historian Peter Morrell amongst others)  that whilst first-born children have only to negotiate with their parents, and second-borns tend to develop close and exclusive relationships with both their parents and first-borns, third-borns (and indeed subsequent children) arrive into a family structure which is already well established and which they can do little to alter. Knowing that if they take sides, the family dynamics might overbalance, a third-born child is characteristically adept at negotiation. always looking for ways to make sure that everyone gets on and that his or her own position is happy and safe through strategic rather than through direct means. According to Morrell, since a third born child is pre-programmed not to put his or her own needs first, his or her life is often built around service of some sort or another. Whilst third-borns can be hesitant and unsure, they are also communicators and diplomats, sensitive to the needs of others but able to steer matters to their own advantage. As a result, third-borns tend to make good strong relationships outside the family, including varied friendships and good marriages. They are good at managing difficult relationship problems both at work and at home – or so some theorists would have it.
Victoria, Albert, children, princes, princesses, royal family, royal families, royal children, royal birth
Prince Albert, Queen Victoria and Their Nine Children
Prince Albert, Queen Victoria and Their Nine Children, 26 May 1857. From left to right: Alice, Arthur (later Duke of Connaught), The Prince Consort (Albert), The Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), Leopold (later Duke of Albany, in front of the Prince of Wales), Louise, Queen Victoria with Beatrice, Alfred (later Duke of Edinburgh), The Princess Royal (Victoria) and Helena.
Credit: Caldesi and Monecchi (1857-67), The Royal Collection, via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, the actual position of child in a family can’t be seen in isolation from the overall size of the family, the gaps in ages between the children and the gender configuration. In the case of the British Royal Family, where until very recently boys always took precedence over girls regardless of birth order in the matter of the succession, gender has always been the key defining factor of a child’s experiences. As a result of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 (which replaced male-preference primogeniture with absolute primogeniture), the new royal baby will take its place as fifth in line to the throne and will not supersede its older sister Princess Charlotte to that title whether it is a boy or a girl.

Princess Alice -Third-Born Child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Princess Alice (25th April 1843 - 14th December 1878) came into this world after her sister Victoria (b. 1840), and her brother Bertie (later Edward VII, b. 1841). Although a girl, Louise was no disappointment to her parents because the succession of a male heir had already been secured. Very soon any thought that she might ever succeed to the throne was dissipated as one by one her six younger siblings (three of them boys) were born.
royal women, Princess Alice, Victorian
Princess Alice  
Princess Alice, third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, leaning on a chair,1860s.

Credit: William & Daniel Downey, Wikimedia Commons

Alice’s adult life certainly fits that of a text-book third-born in that it was entirely devoted to service both to her family and to society. After nursing her father Prince Albert in his final illness (December 1861), she spent the next six months being unofficial secretary to her grief-stricken mother. In her later life Alice supported women’s causes and was interested in nursing. During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 she helped to manage field hospitals despite being heavily pregnant.  Indeed, the Princess Alice Women's Guild, took over much of the day-to-day running of the military hospitals in the Grand Duchy of Hesse over which she presided as Duchess. In 1878, Alice nursed her family with diphtheria for over a month before contracting the disease herself and eventually dying from it.

Louise, Princess Royal – Third-Born Child of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra

Louise (20 February 1867 – 4 January 1931) was the third of the six children of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. She was, however, the oldest of the family’s three daughters and her position in the family was further strengthened by the death of her only younger male sibling Alexander John (after only a day of life) in 1871.When Louise’s elder brother Albert Victor died suddenly in 1892 and her second brother George had typhoid and looked likely to die at around the same time, it seemed, for a short while, that Louise might one day become Queen. Once George recovered, married and had issue this possibility disappeared but Louise had effectively already significantly moved up the pecking order of the family. 
Royal Women, Princess Louise, Princess Royal, princess
Louise Princess Royal  
Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife, third child of Edward VII,  in late 1903/early 1904
Credit: Tacoma Times, Wikimedia Commons
The importance of her position was properly recognised on 9 November 1905 when her father, then King Edward VII, created her the Princess Royal and made her two daughters princesses. Widowed in 1912, Louise went on to take on some pretty prestigious titles – suitable to her new position in the family - in the second half of her life. including colonel-in-chief of the 4th and 7th Dragoon Guards.

Mary, Princess Royal - Third-Born Child of George V and Queen Mary

Mary (25th April 1897 – 28 March 1965) was the only girl amongst five brothers. Her life of service – like the others - seems to fit with that characteristic of third-borns. During the First World War she helped British servicemen and their families by visiting hospitals and other welfare organisations. She was honorary President of the Girl Guide Association from 1920 until her death. She also supported the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADS) and the Land Girls and even began a nursing course at Great Ormond Street hospital in June 1918, working two days a week in the Alexandra Ward. In 1926, she became commandant-in-chief of the British Red Cross Detachments. The Second World War saw more service and in 1949, Mary became controller commandant of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). In 1950, she became air chief commandant of Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service and in 1956 she received the honorary rank of general in the British Army.  
Princess Mary, siblings, royal women, princesses
Mary Princess Royal with her five brothers
On 28 February 1922, Mary, Princess Royal, married Viscount Lascelles. It was rumoured that she had been pushed into it by her parents. But, with the true ability of a third-born to make the best of a situation, Mary rose to the challenges of the relationship. Indeed, one of her sons later wrote that they ‘got on well together and had a lot of friends and interests in common’.
Credit: Arthur James Hope Downey, for W. & D. Downey, platinum print, 1910, Wikimedia

It was in her relationships with her family, however, that Mary’s third-born desire to bring harmony really came to the fore. After the abdication of her beloved eldest brother Edward VIII in 1937, Mary went to stay with him at Exenfeld Castle near Vienna  though the rest of the Royal Family strongly disapproved. Later, in March 1965, she even met her brother’s wife the long-vilified Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson).

Your Ancestor in the Pecking Order

So much for some Royal third-borns, but you might be more interested in whether the position of your own ancestor in the family line-up had any effect  on the way in which his or her life developed?

British families were large right up to the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This was for a variety of reasons - including religion, access to contraception, family finances and the norms of local cultures. Edwardian households tended to have between two and four children, with even smaller families becoming the norm between the two World Wars and from the mid-twentieth century onwards.  Whilst any claims about the significance of pecking order in families need to be made cautiously, it is worth considering your ancestor in the light of some current suggestions and the relevant historical background. Here are a few ideas.

·        First-born As children, your first-born ancestors might have had to stand-in for their parents from a young age. Older children and especially girls were very much involved in the hands-on care of younger ones. As well as being the family’s strongest personality or highest achiever, your first-born ancestor might well have been the one to keep the rest of the pack under control.

·        Middle-born Less tied to the parents than either the youngest or oldest children in a family, these ‘in-betweens’ have often been characterised as ‘rebellious,’ deliberately setting out to do something different from both their elder and younger siblings.




sisters, girls, Edwardian, Edwardian dresses
Edwardian Sisters
Whilst we are told that the effects of pecking order decline once siblings reach adulthood and leave the family home, your ancestor’s position as eldest, middle or youngest child might have played a significant part in how he or she experienced childhood.
Credit: Author’s own collection

     ·        Clusters A pairing off  (or clustering) of siblings occurred in some large families in the past. Close associations, for example, might have developed between the two eldest children, or between the two youngest.

    ·        Last-born Whilst youngest children have sometimes been characterised as the most free-spirited, self-centred and fun-loving members of the family, it’s worth remembering that they usually held elder siblings in high esteem and were expected unquestioningly to obey their authority. Parents might have been more lenient towards younger children but they also often had unhelpfully lower expectations of them as well.  

·        Only Children ‘Lonely onlies’ in the past might have achieved their status because of maternal or sibling death. Difficult economic times such as those between the two World Wars led some parents to feel that they could afford only one child. An ancestor with no siblings will have enjoyed his or her parents’ full time, attention and resources and might have been particularly conscientious or mature for his or her age.

   ·        Gap Children Ancestors who came from families where there were big gaps between the ages of the children might well have lost one or more siblings in infancy or might have experienced lengthy periods of separation between their parents. In terms of psychology, a child with (a) much older sibling (s) might be considered on the same terms as a first-born.

 ·        Adopted Children  Legal adoption began only in 1926 in Britain, although families had, of course, been informally adopting children for centuries before this. Some research suggests that it is the birth order of the biological family rather than the birth order of the children in the family into which it is adopted that counts as a child grows up. Other research says that the influence of family position on adopted children very much depends on the age at which the child was adopted.

     ·        Multiple Births The general economic prosperity and nutritional bounty of the nineteenth century gave rise to more successful multiple births than in previous history. The number of twins in England and Wales appears to have nearly doubled between 1841 and 1901. Twins (generally perceived as a single unit) have a special position in the family which is largely independent of birth order.



babies, baby, birth, siblings, brothers, sisters
Early Twentieth-Century Postcard - New Baby
The arrival of a new baby in a family has inevitably changed relationships amongst all its members throughout history.  
Credit: Author’s own collection.  
In our search to find out more about our ancestors we should be aware that their life experiences  - wealth, employment, religion, marital status and geography - probably had the greatest effect on the way their lives progressed, but birth order is a small and potentially significant contributing factor that can certainly repay investigation.  

Find Out More
Davidoff, L., Thicker than Water, Siblings and Their Relations, 1780-1920, (OUP, 2013).
Garrett E., et al, Changing Family Size in England and Wales, 1891 –1911, (CUP, 2006).
Hadfield, L., Edwards, R.,  Lucey H., and Mauther, M.,  Sibling Identity and Relationships: Sisters and Brothers, (Routledge, 2006).
Lamb, M.E. and Smith, B. S.,  Sibling Relationships: Their Nature and Significance Across the Lifespan, (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1982).
Morrell, Peter, Family Dynamics and the Third Child as Outsider http://www.homeoint.org/morrell/misc/thirdchild.htm
Symes, Ruth A. Family First: Tracing Relationships in the Past, Pen and Sword, 2016

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