Friday, June 23, 2006

A dip in the gene pool

Escaped today to the county archives in Shrewsbury. A very civilised place, hushed and cool, where the real world is, well, a world away. Picked up the threads of some family history research - my father's paternal family lived and worked about 5 miles from here in the lead mining industry in the 19th century. I like this kind of investigation, piecing together snippets of information, names and places and dates. I like the handwriting of the registers, the notes in the margins, the names, the places and the occupations.

After about 2 hours of sliding film through the micro-fiche reader, seeing the same names go by: births, marriages and deaths, one slips into that little community up in the Shropshire Hills. Silent now but busy then with the mining industry at the height of production. Large families, biblical names, illiteracy - the older folk often signing with a cross - 'his mark'. A hard life above or below ground for man or woman. My g.g.g grandfather ended his life as a ratcatcher, which depending on your view of rats, may or may not have been an honourable profession.

So this afternoon for a couple of hours I imagined another swaddled baby christened - another mouth to feed; imagined the brief celebrations of a country wedding and the sombre note of a funeral on a bleak November morning. A hovel for a home and grinding poverty. But there must have been pleasures too - moments of warmth, love, affection and wonder.

I'd been so engrossed that the 21st century hit hard as I left the Archives and stepped into the sunshine.

Drove home across Long Mountain which is as good a place to go as any. Alan had made Caesar Salad using lettuce and rocket from the garden, garnishing it with asparagus, for our evening meal. Excellent.

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