Friday, October 30, 2015


I've been doing some research into the family of my maternal grandmother, whose surname was Cox. Having never really come across the name much I was somewhat taken aback by just how common it was in the part of Gloucestershire they come from (near Stroud, should you be interested!). If that wasn't enough it appears that just about every family in the village had a daughter who was either born Ann Cox or became Ann Cox through marriage, which made tracing my Great x3 Granny even more complicated!

The menfolk have somewhat less common names; Laban, Benjamin, Ira & Reuben. So that should've be easier right? Yeah right... how can people simply disappear for a couple of decades? Or appear in a census as very much alive thank you but not appear in any Death records? Well not that we could find at first, leaving a conundrum - Laban must've died somewhere otherwise he'd be 190yrs old by now, and much as the idea appeals I didn't think we had Time Lords or Immortals in the family.

So in an attempt to make sense of some of what was going on I started looking at the bigger picture; how come so many people from Bisley, Gloucestershire ended up in Halifax, West Riding of Yorkshire around the mid 1800s, and who were they?

After trawling through the census records from 1841 (the first one done) to 1891 for the district I started tracking various families and individuals over the years. I've no idea (yet...) how many of the Cox families listed are related to me, but I found myself getting quite emotionally involved in their histories. Having studied this period for my Social & Economic History A Level, plus having read a fair amount of historical fiction set in this era, I know a reasonable amount about it. However it was one thing learning about it in an abstract fashion, and quite another following the lives and deaths of real people, especially when they might be related to me. It was sobering to see how many children simply didn't make it from one census to the next, ten years later. The oldest person I recorded was 75, and few got to more than 60. Children as young as 7 and 8 had occupations listed next to their names in the 1841 census, and the designation 'pauper' was next to several names. One was living in the workhouse and another the local orphanage, several were servants in later decades and the earlier ones were full of weavers and spinners of both wool and silk, workers at various stages of the walking stick manufacturing industry (stick cutters, varnishers, polishers and bone carvers). Watermen (whatever that may mean!), railway labourers and agricultural labourers made regular appearances but the trade that cropped up again and again was stonemasonry, and that is what took sometimes just the menfolk, but sometimes entire families, up to Halifax.

According to a local history website, the district had had a lot of textile small scale industry, both wool and silk. The industrial revolution hit the area hard in the mid 1830s and many were left out of work. I've not yet figured out what the stonemasons were all working on until the 1850s that kept them in the area, but in the 1851 and 1861 census returns there are several families where the 'head' of the household is absent and the wife listed as 'wife of a stonemason'. Family tradition has it that Halifax Town Hall was built by members of our family (plus a few hundred others no doubt...) and that seems to be born out by the number of stonemasons from Bisley, including a few Coxs, who appear in the Halifax census returns in 1861.

Eventually the mystery was solved, it turned out that there weren't two Labans in the Bisley area about 10yrs apart in age, but just the older one, and someone had stuffed up (made up?) his age on a subsequent census entry. It turns out that his son Benjamin, my G.G.Grandad was from his second marriage, and the other Coxs they are later listed as living with in Halifax are from the first marriage. The reason it was all confusing is in the earliest census returns Laban is listed as living with his first family, and in the later one in Bisley he's just with his younger family, the older children being at a different address.

So it appeared that alas, no Time Lords in the family after all. Well that was until we started trying to research Benjamin's wife Janet who appears in the marriage register, several census records and the death register, but is conspicuous by her absence from any birth registers or census returns from the part of Scotland where she was supposedly born and spent her childhood! I'm reasonably certain she didn't die from having her head lopped off with a sword though as that would've caused quite a stir in Halifax in 1917, so that at least rules out her being an Immortal! Seems we're stuck with invisible for the time being instead.

A bizarre twist to the tale has been in relating some of these research challenges to long standing friends I've found that two of them also have Cox ancestry in the family from that part of Gloucestershire! I know it has long been said that Quakers makes the world a smaller place, but I wasn't expecting to end up potentially related to people I've known over half my life who also happen to have made their home in Aotearoa NZ!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

past present

I've spent a lot of time over the last few weeks working on a photobook, not for me or a Summer Gathering one (although one of those is also in progress), but as a birthday present for one of my self-appointed nephews. I'm reasonably sure no-one who sees this post will see him before he gets it, or if they do I'm sure they can keep a secret!

For almost four years we both lived around here and I spent many a weekend plus time in the school holidays looking after him. Anyone who followed my photostream on Flickr will know I took a lot of photos of him, and the ones that got uploaded were often only a fraction of those taken. I'd hear 'Take another, and another, and one of this' as he'd pull a different pose, expression or jump yet again off whichever piece of playground equipment it was, aiming for that 'perfect' shot.

These days though he's very reluctant to be in front of the camera and I practically have to plead with him to get a more up to date photo, so I figured it was time to share a reminder of how it used to be! Well that and the fact that when I was visiting recently he very proudly showed me an album with old photos, school certificates, and postcards I'd sent to him over the years. I'd thought about making the book last year but wasn't really sure the time was right so left it, this year though I knew for sure he'd appreciate it.

It was lovely looking back at the photos as I pulled the book together, it was as much a document of my life then as his. Amongst the stuff I'd recently brought back from Pukepoto was a bundle of paintings and drawings he'd done when staying with us. Those have now been photographed and recycled, it was hard to let go of them even so. But I have a box that has been covered with his pictures that I keep my files in so I do still have some originals. I think putting the photobook together helped me let go of the pictures, realizing that it was the memory of him doing the painting and drawing with me that was far more important to me than what he actually produced.

I've also been sorting through a box of cassette tapes, and I managed to halve my collection - again! It's a decade now since I had anything to play them on so it really was getting ridiculous to keep them all. I wrote a list of a pile of albums that I had that had been copied by various people that I had yet to get on cd or electronically and parted with those, and for mix tapes I'd put together either from my own or various past flatmates/boyfriend's music collections I went through and wrote a list of the tracks I now don't have, and parted with those tapes too. Mix tapes made for me by others survived to live another day, along with some recordings of friends' bands and a few originals that I still can't bring myself to part with even if I do have the cd/iTunes version now! Then to make up for what felt like a ruthless cull I splurged on iTunes and bought some of the most nostalgic 'missing' tracks, and fished out the insert cards that had friends' handwriting on and kept those too. After all, it has reached the point now where it is the memory of the people associated with it that is far more important than the physical means to listen to the music. And a few pieces of card take up way less room than a pile of C90s!

So two very different eras of my life, one recorded in photographs, the other in music (I've photos of that era too, but they are a task for another time), both now reduced to a more compact mostly digital archive. Another step towards a smaller scale of living without sacrificing the important things, the memories of people who have shaped my life; our love, laughter, tears and hugs.There's a quote from Maya Angelou: I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel, this is very true and is probably the most important thing to remember about someone, but it is nice to have some physical reminders of the times you have shared all the same.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Another trip to Pukepoto and another bootful of stuff has been relocated to my current abode. This time I collected one of the small bookcases and contents, and the assortment of boxes and bundles stashed in the bottom of my old wardrobe. The bookcase is now at the EcoCentre full of pre-loved books for sale, including a shelf's worth of those that had been living on it for the last few years! The remaining books have been squeezed on to the bookshelves in my room, their precariously balanced state in some cases being a good incentive to crack on with the process of replacing my photograph albums with much slimmer photobooks. Hopefully the next trip will collect my American cabinet and blanket box, but that requires the right combination of people, trailer, fine weather and time coinciding. But hey, it's taken 4.5yrs so far, what's a few more weeks?!

The feeling of satisfaction I'm getting from this process of downsizing and amalgamation is reassuring me that I'm on the right track. A few weeks ago I was overcome with a feeling of helplessness in the face of the refugee crisis and the intransigence of our politicians who just don't seem to get the idea of helping others simply because they are human too and in need. Sure, clearing out some drawers and figuring out a pile more stuff to re-home won't make any difference to those being washed up on the shores of Greece and Italy, but it gave me something to do that felt constructive, that was part of changing my own lifestyle. The motto 'live simply so others can simply live' kept going round in my head, although the only direct link between my clutter clearing and improving the lives of others I could come up with was the result of me donating stuff to the Salvation Army.

Working through all my possessions has been a very physical reminder of the fact that I am a migrant. I shifted myself, my life and my stuff from one side of the world to the opposite. I chose to do this. I have paid more than I want to contemplate to the Departments of Immigration, and Internal Affairs over the last 10yrs in order that I might remain in my new home country, but it was all above board, by the book, official. I have the stamps in my passports and pieces of paper to prove I can be here. As I now have the letter saying my citizenship application has been accepted and am now awaiting a date for the ceremony, I'll soon be entitled to have a Kiwi passport in addition to my British one.

How different is my situation to those of the dispossessed, displaced refugees and asylum seekers who are desperately trying to get into Europe, and into Lebanon, away from the horrors of war and destruction. And yet the mainstream media has been using the same word, migrant, to describe them as is befitting to describe me. How can anyone think that our situations are even remotely the same? It angers me to see their true plight being sanitized into language that can be used to manipulate people into thinking there is an element of choice in what these people have done, and even worse implying that many are doing it to 'take advantage' of the destination countries and scrounge their benefits. I've been on the dole in the UK before now, and believe you me it certainly isn't worth risking life and limb crossing the Mediterranean in an overcrowded boat, then walking hundreds of miles, crawling through razor wire fences, or getting shut in a Chunnel bound lorry where you may suffocate, or hanging on to the top of a train for.

I've not seen much news over the last couple of weeks whilst I was away, so have relied on snatches of info picked up online, and now I'm back I find that, as it was before I left, the bulk of our news is about the Rugby World Cup. I am grateful to have such a great bunch of friends around the world who have kept heart-wrenching stories like this circulating around social media, reminding us of the far bigger issues out there. References to this poem by Warsan Shire popped up in my feed again, and again, and again.

I truly hope enough Help is Coming....