Outside my door the cockatoos shriek, the lizards chase around the verandah and I sit and sweat at my laptop in a virtual reality of eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century Black country, coal digging lives of my ancestors.I’ve come back from the Australian Labor Party Queensland Branch Members Conference urging policy makers to keep the Coal and Uranium in the ground and invest in renewable energy.Global Warming is an "inconvenient truth" as Al Gore says, especially for the Queensland Coal Mine stakeholders, and our Labor Premier, Peter Beattie with his hard hat on. Before long I am settled in my old Colonial Queenslander and digging through the archives on-line, a couple of branches of my Nan’s family – the Brothwoods and Gardners of Staffordshire who laboured long and hard, supporting their children from the beginning to the end of Britains Industrial Revolution.I started my family research with Nan as she recenlty died. On my return to the ‘Mother Country’ to see her before she died she was glad to pass on family names, knowing how interested I was in geneology. In English history all students learned was the Monarchial family trees and battles to retain them.
With Australian Republican principles, I wasn’t looking for aristocratic genes as though that would make one a superior being, but I did want want to place our clan stories in the context of human history. What was the part we played? I found it was not insignificant.Each day on the internet I’d discover a new link to the Brothwood time line, with immense gratitude to the people who have worked to put all this information on the web, to make it accessible. It was easier too, as I found that on the surname place project, Brothwoods had their origin in Shropshire but spent the next 150 years in Staffordshire a hop, skip and jump over the border from The Wrekin.Having recently worked as an Australian Census collector it was wonderful to see the work of those before me, ennabling me to follow a family story: putting the dates and names together like a jigsaw.In the process I also linked up with two cousins I didn’t know existed by the geneology sites that link common names from members trees. They both live in the Midlands and I have said we will have to have a drink in Cannock, Staffordshire where we spring from – as my husbands long service leave makes the trip viable, (and before P.M. Howard slashes those rights for workers fought for over a hundred years).
New cousin Dave on my matrilineal line confirmed the census material with a marriage certificate of my Nan’s parents,William and Sarah Jane Brothwood(nee Gardner). They obviously met in Derbyshire, because their fathers were working at the Colliery there at the time of the 1901 Census.
I first met my great great grandfather when he was one year old in the 1881 Cenus, born in Nuneaton Warwickshire, specifically in Pit Row 71 Colliery School Rd of Denaby, Yorkshire.His mum was called Sarah too, age 23 and it occurred to me what life was like for a woman, bearing children right through to menopause, travelling around from mine to mine -and why was her husband, Edward moving from job to job?My great great grandfather Edward drew my admiration when I ordered his birth certificate with the touch of a button and a seven pound credit card transaction, finding that in 1847 he was born in the Wolverhampton Union Poor House to his unwed mum, Ann Brothwood.The reason why I felt this for Mother and child was when I researched all about Wolverhampton and the history of the Poor Laws. Was Ann kicked out by her Dad and have to wear a yellow badge for being an unmarried,pregnant women?Not only did they manage to survive the Cholera Outbreak, but they got work and thrived, so by the 1871 Census, Ann Brothwood was Head of a household in Wolverhampton.Ann’s parents meanwhile show up with an empty nest in the 1851 Census in Wolverhampton, so is likely her dad kicked her out to go in the poor house when she was pregnant.I cheer her on from my time-travelling chair. What a strong woman she must have been, and I can see her at age 42yrs in 1871, with Edward at home age 22 and other children called Brothwood too – but question is, who do they belong to, as she wears her single status to the Census collector and theres a man her age who could be her partner, though it says he’s her lodger!I haven’t watched television for weeks…Who needs to watch ‘Neighbours’ when my imagination thrives on knowledge shared and passed on from previous generations. All those BBC dramas I grew up with from the stories of Charles Dickens and George Eliot, and tales of monarchial power plays – yet whilst Bonnie Prince Charlie’s faithful Scots men were marching down to London, my ancestors were down pit, keeping their heads down, making money for their Coalmasters, and providing for their families.Many family historians go looking for traces of Royal blood in their pedigree, but it seems I’ll have to go to a clairvoyant to tell me that I was the ‘Queen of Sheba’ in one of my past lives! All I know is the more I research, the more I discover and it is a joy to learn.The Brothwoods, the Gardners and the Duces may not have been famous or infamous, but they were solid hard working people who were the heart and soul of Britains economic fortune and progress.Their time is over now and I use my technological tool to search and muse and meet cousins from across the globe in cyberspace. Its on my agenda to have a gathering of the clan in a Cannock hotel sometime in the near future.That’s one branch of the story anyway! Then there’s the Irish. What will I find there? Now I know why I felt at home in Ipswich so much, old coal mining heritage and lots of short, working class people who say hello and smile in lifts and appreciate the industry that got them to the present, no matter how hard the task was. They know what it is like at the coal face because their grandparents told them, but now its time to keep that fuel in the ground and petition parliament for a tax on carbon and invest in solar, and bring the current government down for taking us back to low wages and 12 hour days.Julie McNeillPuppeteer/WriterQueensland, Australia