Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thinking About the Dark

I recently completed reading Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, by Jane Box.  I have to say I found it strangely compelling, and I finished it with a real sense of regret.  What I found most poignant were the chapters that dealt with light on farms and cities in the 19th and very early 20th centuries.  It is not that anything that the author wrote was not something I was wholly unaware of, but some of it she combined in ways that had not occurred to me.  For example, her writing about the joy that farmers felt when they could actually milk the cows in a barn with light, and not have to worry about the risk of fire or explosion.

Indeed, one of the major reasons our ancestors went to bed early was that there was no light to do anything.  While city dwellers had gaslight to light the streets, their homes were under the the same restrictions as farmers with only candles or kerosene to light their rooms, and in the country night must have fallen like a pall, without even gaslit roads for illumination.

What Brilliant brought home to me (again), is how much we may romanticize the past that our ancestors lived in, glossing over the warts, cuts, smells, and just plain drudgery of everyday life for our mostly rural (and urban) ancestors.  Not that there is not much that was good, but in terms of lights, in the countryside when the sun went down, outdoor life stopped.  Even indoor life slowed greatly.  As the 19th century progressed the quality of the light available improved as kerosene lamps took over from candles, but as anyone who has lived with kerosene lamps knows (as I do), they are nothing when compared to an electric light bulb in terms of safety, steadiness, reliability, and sheer convenience.

We have much to be thankful for.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Back on the Document Trail

So, it's that time again to track down documents from the Halls family.

When I have a document I'm interested in I usually wait until the document that has been banging around in my mind starts banging too persistently, or it strikes me as so important that I have to "Get it now!"

In this case I am ordering a birth registration from England, and the administration papers of a will (also from England).  The birth registration may be that of my gg grandfather William Halls.  The name and place are correct, but the date is wrong.  Until I get it into my hot little hands I won't know for sure.  

The administration papers are those of my gggg grandfather, Philip Halls.   I am kind of surprised about the existence of any documents relating to a will for a couple of reasons, first, it was my understanding that most people did not have enough money or have the property to make it worth creating a will.  Second, the vast majority of wills from Devon were destroyed in Exeter during the Blitz in 1942.  I already have two wills from Halls family members living in Merton between the 1820's and 1840's.  For there to be a papers of a third, is to me, astounding. As to why it exists, it appears that Philip died intestate, and on top of that, if I understand correctly, the value of the estate was in excess of the minimum value required for the records to be sent to London because death duties were to be paid.  Once again, I won't know until the documents come in from England.

Stay Tuned!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Missing Home

I often wonder what it was like for my ggg grandfather Thomas Halls (and his brothers) to leave England and come to Canada.  I don't mean the sea voyage, which I understand could have taken up to three months, I mean adapting to a new land.

In many ways it must have been reasonably familiar.  They had many family members living nearby, as well as other people from Devon, and many of the place names were from England.  Thomas lived in the community of Lambeth, southwest of London, in the county of Middlesex.  London was on the Thames river.  A little further away was the community of Stratford, on the Avon River.  The newspapers would have had both local news, as well as news from England and the Empire.  He would have sent letters back and forth to his brother William, who had remained behind, as well as his sister Charlotte.

All in all, there would have been a great deal of the feeling of home in the areas where Thomas and his brothers lived.  And yet.  And yet it would have been very different.  First, there would have been the wilderness, literally dark, almost impenetrable forest.  The woods would have been full of animals that were large, and often dangerous, animals that certainly would not have been in Devon - moose, wolves, cougars, and bears.  Many other animals had familiar names, but in many cases that would only have drawn attention to their differences, animals like robins, jays, and badgers, and plants like chestnut or beech.

Did Thomas (and his brothers) suffer from homesickness?  Did they regret coming to Canada, or would the freedom to make their mark in the world have made up for the hardships and loneliness?  I don't know, and never can know, much to my regret.

Regardless, all the Halls brothers did well in their new homes.  Their children were successful, their lives were full, and they were successful too.  It was not a story without sadness, and sometimes tragedy, but I think that in the end they did not regret the choices they had made.