What is a night at the museum really like?

Last weekend we spent a couple of days at a very special mooring. Ellesmere Port is a run down small industrial town, on the south bank of the river Mersey and next to the Manchester Ship Canal. It does not have much to commend it, but it does have one gem. It is home to the National Waterways Museum. The old port is at the end of the Shropshire Union canal, where is meets the ship canal to the sea. It was once a thriving area, employing hundreds of people loading and unloading goods. After years of neglect, in the 1970’s a group of volunteers got together to clean it up and turn it into a boat museum. They did an amazing job and today it houses several acres of old buildings, exhibitions, boats and history. And best of all, we got to moor overnight in the middle of it.

We stayed for a couple of nights, and during the day got to visit all the exhibits and look around the town. But even better, in the evenings, the staff locked up the museum gates and we were left all alone. We had a special key so we could get in and out, but I loved wandering around the museum with the dogs, taking a close up look at the old terraced houses, the heavy port equipment, the boats themselves. It was kind of spooky although I did not see any ghosts. I could, however, imagine the dock workers busy in the docks, and the boat owners, living in their tiny cabins, behind a large barge full of coal or grain.

We are nearing the end of our six month narrowboat trip for this year, and this was a great experience to add to the memories. A night at the museum may not have been quite like in the movies but it was something very special nevertheless.

How far back does your family tree go?

This week I have been a genealogist. Several years ago I built up my family tree with the aid of the Genes Reunited website, stories from older relatives and lots of censuses, birth, wedding and death certificates, together with visits to graveyards and old houses.

A small section of my tree

I have not kept the tree up to date and decided to transfer it to the Ancestry.co.uk website, so there was quite a lot of work to do. I also recently received a number of old photographs – one pile from an old tin chest in my Mum’s loft, that turned out to contain all the papers left to my Dad when his parents died; one pile from my Mum’s cousin, who’s own mother recently passed away; and one pile from my wife’s aunt, who’s husband died last year.

It has been time consuming and a little bit obsessive. At one point my wife instructed me in no uncertain terms that I needed to come down for dinner, because I had been sitting in my study for over 12 hours without a break. But it has also been both rewarding and a little sad. Rewarding because I really find it exciting to find our new things and to connect with the past. If you have watched “Who Do You Think You Are?” You will know the experience. But what has been sad is finding quite a few photographs where I can’t identify the people. I have pictures that have been kept carefully for over a hundred years, but where everyone who could have identify them has now gone. Here are a few examples:

Some of my relatives – but who are they?

So this week, I have one request. If you have pictures or papers from the past, please annotate them on the back with the names of people involved. Please use real names, not things like “Grannie and my Uncle”. By doing so, future genealogists like me will be able to connect faces to names, and keep them alive in memories. Do it this weekend.