‘Reaping Extraordinary’

In the newspaper archives (which, by the way, I access via Find My Past), you can find a lot of very tragic and/or unpleasant stories, and this is usually all I find (if anything) when researching my London and Essex ancestors. However, searching for my Cornish and Devon ancestors has resulted in a few happy, and even quite sweet little articles. Here’s one I found last night, which I have to say is probably the most wholesome item I’ve ever come across in the newspaper archives:


On Monday last, August 9th, in a field belonging to Mr. John Strout, of Polyphant, Lewannick, five labourers of the parish of South-Petherwin, and an equal number from the parish of Altarnun, agreed to cut a portion of a field of wheat, about a quarter of an acre each, bind it in shocks in a proper and workmanlike manner; to be done in the short space of four hours for a wager of £5.

The work was done so well by the competing parties that the umpires, Mr. Somer of St. Cleather, and Mr. W Dawe of Lewannick, had considerable difficulty in deciding. But as both parties were a few minutes over the time, and equally deserving, they thought it best that the bet should be withdrawn.

Hundreds of people were present to witness the performance, which excited a great deal of interest, and appeared highly pleased with the able manner in which the work was done. Under the circumstances the decision of the umpires deserved the greatest praise.

The utmost harmony prevailed throughout the contest.

(Cornish Times 14 August 1858 © The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved. Accessed via Find My Past.)

By the way, John Strout was my 4x great grandfather. This particular article doesn’t provide any facts about my family history but it provides the kind of context that I love to help build up a picture of what the life of my ancestors was like.

Have you found any particularly wholesome newspaper items? Is there any geographical area you’ve found is particularly good for this kind of content?

The beginning

I don’t know why it took me so long to actually start researching my family history. It’s a topic that always interested me, and every now and then I’d google the names of my great-grandparents, but aside from a couple of photos of my great-grandmother, I never found anything. I knew my grandad had been researching our family history in the 1990s, and I knew his papers would still be around somewhere, but it never really occurred to me to look at them.

During the first lockdown last year, I googled my great-grandmother again and this time Ancestry came up. I signed up for a free trial and found all kinds of information I never realised was so easy to access. I naively resolved to find out “everything” before the end of my two week trial… and now nine months later I’m still learning more about my family history everyday, not just on Ancestry but on other sites too.

When I told my mum I was researching our family history, she gave me my grandad’s notebook and papers. There were birth, marriage and death certificates, copied out census records, printouts of microfiche, pages of scribbled notes. He had filled out a pedigree chart of course, but to my surprise he’d even done one for me. I was a young child at the time and he never showed it to me, but it was like he knew I would need it someday.

Going through all my grandad’s notes and knowing I’m carrying on his research makes the whole process of researching my family history even more personal and rewarding. Back when he was doing this, he didn’t have the internet to help him. He had to visit or write to record offices for information. I have the benefit of online indexed transcriptions from all over the world, which makes things easier in a lot of ways but a little overwhelming in others. Whenever I find more evidence to back up what he already found, or something that confirms a hunch of his, or something that eluded him, I feel so proud, and I know he’d be proud of me. I wish I could talk to him about it all and show him what I’ve found and tackle those stubborn brick walls together.