What happened in the year….?

This is a guest post by Wayne Shepheard

I have a booklet, given to me by my sister on the occasion of my 60th birthday, called Once Upon a Time in the World 1945.

It resides in the bathroom, along with other reading material, where I can occasionally look back on that momentous year, such as the following: among many World War II news stories, in February of 1945, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt met in Yalta to discuss war arms; the Nobel prize in Medicine was awarded to Sir Alexander Fleming, Ernst B. Chain and Baron Florey for the discovery of penicillin; the Oscar for Best Movie went to The Lost Weekend starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman; the song, Sentimental Journey reached number two on popular music’s Top Ten Hits; and, in August, atomic bombs were dropped on two cities in Japan.

So I wondered what I could find for those years in which some of my ancestors were born. Perhaps looking at the news of the day would give me a better understanding of life then – the important events that affected day-to-day life, or just what might have interested or entertained them. I started with my paternal 2nd great-grandfather, John Shepheard. His birth in 1830 was far enough back to offer interesting comparisons with the modern-day world but not so far back that finding information would be very difficult.

On December 30th, the date John Shepheard was baptized, the four-page newspaper Trueman’s Exeter Flying Post had all kinds of interesting information on:

• world affairs – comments on the effect of the French and Belgian Revolutions on trade; the Five Great Powers agreeing “to acknowledge the independence of Belgium”; the King of Prussia adopting “precautions to preserve his share of the plunder of Poland from the epidemic of revolt”
• government notices – one given setting the date for the Epiphany General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County of Devon
• domestic matters such as – a report on a meeting about Poor Relief; the Quarter Sessions summary for Exeter City
• results of criminal court matters – such as the sentencing of three gentlemen to transport to New South Wales “for disinterring and carrying away dead bodies at Stoke Damerel”
• classified advertisements for – real estate for sale and rent; positions available; commercial goods and services; auctions
• association and club meeting notices and reports – including some information about future fox-hound group meeting dates
• commercial transactions and market reports
• birth, marriage and death notices from several areas in Devon and elsewhere

Page one of the Post also had a series of interesting advertisements for many medicinal products including Butler’s Cajeput Opodeldoc (a remedy for chronic rheumatism, spasmodic affections, chilblains, palsy, stiffness and enlargement of the joints), Improved Pectoral Balsam of Horehound (for coughs, colds, asthmas, hooping [sic] cough and all obstructions of the breast and lungs), Partridge’s Concentrated Pills (for “head ache, giddiness of the head and dimness of sight”), Hart’s White Itch Ointment (for obvious afflictions and which could “be safely used by persons of the most delicate constitution”), Dr. Sydenham’s Antibilious or Family Pills (for “bilious and liver complaints, gout, indigestion, flatulencies, habitual costiveness, spasms and nervots [sic] headaches”), Congreve’s Balsamic Elixir (for “coughs, hooping [sic] cough, shortness of breath and asthma”) and Powell’s Balsam of Aniseed (also for “coughs, colds, hoarseness, difficulty of breathing and huskiness in the throat”). These were real eye-openers of the complaints of the times!

It was like reading ‘A day in the life of. . .’! There were no reports from the Cornwood area in that particular edition of the Post, of course, as Exeter is some distance away and a small, rural parish did not always generate much activity that was newsworthy. I did find some references to the parish in other issues of both the Post and the North Devon Journal published during the year 1830, though.

Turning to events outside Devon, a Google search for “events in 1830” had 32,500,000 hits so it looked like I would not have any trouble finding out what was going on that year. Narrowing the search to “events in 1830 – United Kingdom” alone resulted in 858,000 hits. Wikipedia listed: the death of King George IV and his succession by his brother William IV in June; the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway; the last hanging for piracy in London; the Swing Riots by agricultural workers in East Kent who protested the against the use of labour-displacing threshing machines; another disturbance called the Otmoor Riots, in Oxfordshire, following the enactment of laws concerning enclosure which disadvantaged many farmers; and, closer to home for me as an Earth scientist, the publication of the first volume of Principles of Geology by the Scottish geologist, Charles Lyell.

Next up – what happened in the year 1792, when my 3rd great-grandfather was born?

Have you done something similar with your family history? We would love to hear about what was happening on specific days when your ancestor was born or married.

About the Author

Wayne is a past student of Pharos, having attained a certificate (with distinction) in the Family History Skills & Strategies (Intermediate) programme. He is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne has his own blogsite, Discover Genealogy, in which he relates his experiences as a family historian. He also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

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3 Responses to What happened in the year….?

  1. Gail Roger says:

    I’d always wondered where the name Caroline came from in one of the branches of my husband’s family and made a serendipitous discovery a couple of months ago while doing some online ploughing through parish registers in Kent. On 11 October 1727, my husband’s great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Caroline Bromley was christened at St Cosmas and St Damian Challock and the blessed parish clerk noted that it was “y Coronation Day of King George y 2.d & Queen Caroline”. (The debut, I believe, of Handel’s anthem “Zadok the Priest”.) It turns out that Caroline was a twin and was being baptized along with her brother George!

    I’m a huge fan of time-lines and find the labour-intensive nature of constructing them well worth it for discovering discrepancies, reviewing records, and noticing how family events are clustered (a year rife with family deaths, for example, or the the events immediately prior to a bankruptcy). I’ve considered adding historic events to them to provide added context, but even if I limit time-lines to the direct line, they’re still pretty unwieldy!

    • helenosborn says:

      That is a very neat finding Gail. I immediately went to look at all the Carolines in my personal tree, but none of them were born that far back. I like the feature in Legacy Family Tree software that allows timelines to be drawn, but the best ones are the ones that you develop yourself with local, national and family events all shown alongside. I use them a lot in client work as well.

  2. Great story Gail! Those kinds of notes never make it to an index so, even if you find a transcription you might miss a personal message meant to commemorate an event. I will certainly be looking at some of the other events on my family tree to see what was happening in the area or the world at the times those baptisms, marriages or burials occurred.

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