We have all seen those booklets for sale in gift shops and pharmacies loaded with trivia highlighting the events of certain years. They are directed at those people who are curious about the activities, people and news stories during the year in which they were born. I have one such publication, given to me by my sister on the occasion of my 60th birthday (So many years ago!), called Once Upon a Time in the World 1945.
The booklet has information from the year of 1945 about: news stories, fun facts, science & technology, sports movies & Oscars, music, birthdays, zodiac and much more.
The booklet used to reside in the bathroom (euphemistically referred to as the “library”), along with other reading material, where I could 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
· 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 – what important events might have affected day-to-day life or just what might have interested or entertained them.
There is a not-so-surprising amount of information on the internet for any particular year, going back hundreds of years. You might have copies of documents generated in the community, such as parish accounts, in which your ancestors lived that could add to the narrative.
I thought I would start with my paternal 2nd great-grandfather, John Shepheard. His birth in 1830 was far enough back that it would offer interesting comparisons with the modern-day world but not so far back that finding information would be very difficult.
I thought newspapers would be a great source of information. On December 30th, the date John Shepheard was baptized, the newspaper, the four-page Trewman’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
Interestingly, page one of the Post had a series of advertisements for many medicinal products including Butler’s Cajeput Opodeldoc (a remedy for chronic rhematisms, 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 notes 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. And there was a great deal going on in many other parts of Britain and the world that I have not reviewed yet.
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 a number of events, including:
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 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?