Tag Archives: memoir

Crazed visions…

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See below…

On Sunday 12 June 2011 I seem to have created a blog on a site I never revisited. I hadn’t remembered doing it but the evidence is up and out there in the ether, rediscovered when I chanced to trip a link while tidying up my computer desktop. I called that blog, ‘Crazed visions’, subtitle: ‘thoughts and words as they occur’. It consisted of a list in which I jotted down what came to my mind about my great-aunt. I may never get round to writing more about her, but this may trigger memories in members of the family (if so, please send them to me). For other readers it may stimulate thoughts and feelings (inherited or not) about the people who existed on the fringes of the family nucleus.

Dedae (1886-1975)

What do I know about Dedae?

  1. She was my great-aunt, unmarried youngest sister of my mother’s father William Gibb Chisholm.
  1. Her full name was Agnes Edith Chisholm (Agnes was her mother’s name, no idea where Edith came from).
  1. She made my mother a doll’s house out of orange boxes during WW1; it has a stair case and I still have it. A detached house with a balcony, nothing like the house she lived in.
  1. In her last years she lived in Belgrave Crescent, as did her unmarried slightly older doctor (gynaecologist) brother Uncle Ernie.
  1. It was a ground and basement flat with a hideous and large painting of St Sebastian in the hall (presumably this was a family possession? is there an inventory for AWC in 1921, or AHC in 1936?)
  1. Otherwise the front room is all I can remember, facing on to the communal garden over the street (that would be south), a heavy feeling of Victorian clutter, oil paintings and plants.
  1. I last remember meeting her at my grandfather’s cremation at Warriston the year I married (1966). She asked me whether I would like a practical or useful wedding gift. I said useful (which I have always thought was the wrong answer) and she gave me a set of pyrex casseroles decorated with flowers.
  1. I don’t think she liked my mother much (probably mutual) and she did not mention her in her will.
  1. Her executor was mother’s cousin Ralph Darling (son of her elder sister Annie) who disposed of many of the family artifacts, which meant little to him, without consulting his cousins.
  1. Ralph, who came back from South Africa after an unsuccessful marriage to live with his aunt, had to conceal his long-term partner Diana from her. Diana was banned from the house. (After Ralph’s death, years later, Diana would meet my mother for coffee, having travelled across England to hand over small items of silver which she said must go back to the family).
  1. Mother said Dedae was a snob who would refer to people as not being out of the top drawer.
  1. Dedae was the unmarried daughter who lived at home taking care of her parents.
  1. Somewhere there is a photo of her in perhaps a VAD uniform during WW1.
  1. She would have been one of the generation whose hope of marriage went with The Great War.
  1. There are a couple of photos of her as a teenager but none later (she would have inherited the family possessions, did she destroy them?)
  1. She was very involved with the Clan Chisholm Society.
  1. She commissioned a researcher to examine her ancestory (I have the report).
  1. In her later years she would take elderly people out for runs in her car round Warriston. She was not a good driver and disliked the introduction of traffic lights.
  1. There are questions: how and where was she educated? Is there an inventory of her estate which presumably included the Robert Scott Lauder family picture of his sister?
  1. Born 1886, died 1975.
  1. Her mother (Agnes Helen Gibb) died in 1936, her father (Alexander Wyse Chisholm) in 1921.
  1. Despite living in Edinburgh she was not a person we saw or visited much; not a warm relationship…

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Once she was a gawky girl balancing frothy puff-balls of white lace.

What was life like for her?

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Filed under Edinburgh, family history, History, relations

Just do it!

When it comes to doing family history I prefer the thrill of the chase.

I am not good at getting round to collating and filing bits of information, especially if they come in various formats such as computer files, photos, certificates, notes and thoughts on the backs of envelopes. Paper can be tucked into a file (if big enough) but how to integrate this with what’s on the computer? Scan all the paper and concentrate on identifying and bringing together all this electronic mass (and buy a big screen on which to view it)? Or, print out all the stuff on the computer and commandeer the sitting room floor? But even this is a way of avoiding getting down to making sense of the material and thinking about what might be missing, about the things unsaid, unrecorded.

Photo of section of a very large OS map

For the past few months I’ve been attending a writing workshop entitled ‘Blood Lines: Creative Memoir’. It’s been an experience I have approached with caution. Having poor recall of past events I am keen to hang on to what I do have and am reluctant to create false memories. Dredging our memories for matter to write about is also a trifle unsettling for all participants in that it stirs up feelings, not all, indeed it would appear very few, happy.

One of the premises of the course is that ‘each family has its fund of tales’  which further implies that these are passed on, often by grandparents, and that the recipients listen. Would this were so.

I have no memory of one grandmother who lived in another part of the country and who died when I was six. Fortunately the grandfather on that side was part of a female-dominated line who hung on to scraps of paper which enable some reconstruction of the family’s history. He was also interested in family trees. My mother, moreover, did a sterling job, collecting information and writing about her relations once she realised that not only were there years of family life and background of which her own children were ignorant but that her younger sisters were also strangers to much of it. Among the things she discovered was that one of her grandfathers had abandoned his children after the death of his wife and later died in a poorhouse. The children were rescued from threat of the orphanage by an uncle, brother of the absconding parent, who took them in. Mother had not known any of this before the researcher located death and census records; her own mother had never mentioned it. Nor were the younger sisters happy that my mother made public family information.

The other, Irish, side of my ancestry, is The Challenge. My father’s knowledge of his ancestors seemed to stop

Helpful Blackrock taxi driver tries but fails to find an ancestral site via a snip of a 19th century OS map

with his grandparents, and of them he chiefly recounted that his grandfather, Zeno Sloan, had introduced the tonic sol-fa into Ireland and that his grandmother ran a school and continued to do so with the assistance of her daughters until retirement age. Father and all his brothers bar one moved away from Ireland, seas and oceans then separating us grandchildren from grandparents who might have told us that fund of tales. Our visits were brief and not occasions for bonding or story-telling. I have spent the last couple of years trying to track down members of the family to see if I could get further back but even our combined memories and delvings into archives have not got very far, or gone very far… Photos and emails on the computer. Letters and photocopies in a file. Maps? Clippings? Must make a start on bringing some of it together.

This is not a new thought.Once of the reasons I signed up to the Creative Blood Lines course was to force myself to write regularly. Write what? Well anything, at least anything readable.  Same reason I started these blogs and it is evident from how few I have published that solo creation is not one of my strengths.

Also in the pursuit of, or let’s face it as a diversion from, my first novel I have put in time reading lists of tips provided by various authors. This was not the result of googling ‘top tips’. I do google the names of authors whose work I enjoy. Sneaking up on Rose Tremain online produced the first of these lists.

I have also been reading my way through Muriel Spark, first her short stories and then the novels, most recently The Abbess of Crewe, in the hope that some of her vivid style will rub off on me. And because her books are a joy to read as she is a brilliantly inventive writer with a lashing acerbic wit.

One of these lists produced from Muriel Spark the following advice:

“For concentration you need a cat…And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give you back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence is enough.” 

I have made a start on improving my concentration. He looks like this (but if he steps across in front of me, where his eyes are pointing, he becomes a writer’s block):

The Aide-Memoire waiting for food

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