Monday, January 25, 2010

Diversity, dynamite and decisions

Because family history offers such a diversity of intriguing avenues to explore, it's often difficult to maintain focus. In the process of finding out more about my Hamilton and Gibson ancestors who had once lived in a small village called Stevenston in Ayrshire, Scotland, I discovered that several members of these families had worked at 'the dinnamit' – local parlance for Nobel's explosives factory at Ardeer (see photo right from Ayrshire Libraries Forum showing women workers queuing outside the factory).

UK Census entries reveal that the girls, some as young as twelve, were 'carteridge [sic] makers' at the dynamite works. They wore their hair in pigtails for safety. I spent hours in pursuit of this topic, visiting related websites and generating text files and photographs. Fascinating, yes, and it provided a glimpse into a vanished era, but sometimes it's necessary to tear ourselves away from sidetracks and get back to the main road. Tempus fugit.

Deciding from the outset what that main road is going to be, is helpful. Are you going to collect data on one specific line? Will it be your paternal or maternal line? Or both? What do you intend to do with the information: put together a simple family tree for the benefit of your children and grandchildren or produce a detailed illustrated narrative for circulation within the family? If you have a particularly unusual surname, you might want to work towards a One Name Study. This would involve all instances of the surname (and its accepted spelling variants) anywhere, at any date: a real challenge and clearly not an option if your surname is Smith – or Bell.

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