September 9, 2015

Observations from the Mothership: Day 8

The Day I Went to the National Archives

Today I slept in a bit because I stayed up late yesterday to catch up on some of my blogging after yesterday's busy day with Alan.  Then I became rather irked at myself for a lack of professionalism in once again not proofreading what I'd written before posting it because of my haste to get it out.  Impatience and I are the best of bedfellows, it seems.

After making the necessary corrections, I checked out of my room, stowed my luggage in the hotel office (a move I've gotten ridiculously good at), and grabbed a quick breakfast at the upstairs restaurant before taking the lengthy Tube journey to Kew Gardens, home of the National Archives.  And, in case you were wondering, "Kew" autocorrects to "Jew" on my phone, which has a warped sense of propriety.  It also autocorrects "assholes" to "sad holes," which is perhaps a little more accurate.

The National Archives at Kew in Surrey

National Archives

The trip out to Kew was longer than I'd anticipated, taking nearly an hour if you don't include the time it took me to hobble from the station to the Archives.  Kew Gardens was a lovely little town, though.  Once inside the National Archives I was directed to a room full of lockers and required to stow all my belongings except my research materials, a pencil, and electronic devices like my phone or laptop.  That's all we were allowed to take upstairs.  So off I trotted (if by "trotted" you mean "drug my feet along the floor like a wounded zombie") towards the first point of entry into the archives.  There I was given further instructions as to how to start my searching and shipped off to yet another staff member to help hunt down the origins of one ancestor who was sent to the colonies as a convicted felon.

My attempts to pin down Felonious Gramps proved elusive, although I did make more progress at Kew than I had in Edinburgh.  With the aid of a staff member I was able to find a book listing all the prisoners transported by ship to the colonies, including Felonious Gramps, who took ship from Surrey.  While wandering the stacks I also found a few other relevant books to peruse and took them back to my little desk at the end of the shelving unit; it wasn't until this moment that I'd realized just exactly how much I've missed the smell of stacks full of musty old books reeking of history and academia.  Almost makes me want to go back for my doctorate...or perhaps become a librarian.

Felonious Gramps, I found you!!!



I didn't lust after this set at all...nope.

I also tried to locate a document which had been photographed and posted on Ancestry.com as having come from the Archives at Kew and which detailed Felonious Gramps' actual felony (stealing money); unfortunately the photo failed to list any sort of reference with which one could locate the document.  I ended up talking with a woman from the London Family History Centre which, near as I can gather, is an offshoot of the giant archives maintained by the Mormon church and housed within the Archives.  She gave me some good suggestions for other websites to check and for how to look more when I got back home, pointing out that I could order microfilms from London and have them sent to a local archive for review.  Good to know.  We still couldn't pin down Gramps without a reference, so she sent me off to yet another staff member who was more knowledgeable in such types of documents.

By the time he was done waiting on a previous client, it was nearly closing time for the archives, much to my disappointment.  He looked up the photo and informed me that it wasn't a court document but a tax record of the trial and pointed out where the relevant book should be.  I all but ran to the stack indicated, and was hurriedly scanning the shelves for the reference in question when a security guard came to kick me out.  It was a little like a scene from a movie with me screaming "Nooooooooo!!!!!" just as I was reaching out to grab the book I needed while it fell/faded from view/whatever.  So close!!!

Archives 2, Ginger 0

I went back downstairs to the locker room to consolidate my belongings and head off back towards the train station.  Originally I'd hoped to make a quick run up to Harrow after visiting the Archives to a place called the Bra Stop since they have a reputation for excellent bras.  I figured if I could get properly fitted (something like 80% of women wear the incorrect size, I'm told) then I could always order online later.  But the train to Kew took much longer than I'd anticipated and there was no way to get there before the shop closed.  Alas, I guess I'll just have to make do with my shoddy American undergarments and try again the next time I'm overseas.

Once back in London, I was in the process of crossing the street at Hammersmith to change Tube lines when I was accosted by a small, slender Irish guy with a longish ginger ZZ Top beard who hailed me by saying, "Hellooooo, fellow redhead!!!"  He then got all chatty and asked me where I was from.  I told him New Jersey and he replied that he'd been hoping to hear an Irish accent, but that he'd forgive me.  How very generous of him.  The man then wanted to know all about whether I lived locally or was just visiting; I listened politely with one eyebrow cocked the entire time at his audacity.  I couldn't help wondering if the man was somehow involved in the Ginger Day UK scheduled for Saturday and trying to get me involved. Regardless, he was clearly after something other than my strawberry hair or my sparkling personality.  Eventually he got around to the point; seems he was stumping for some children's charity but informed me that "since you don't live in the UK you can't really help."  Now I don't know about you, but I would think that any given charity would be more than happy to accept money or aid from whomever they could, regardless of nationality.  Can a charity really be choosy about who contributes?  This seems contradictory, but maybe that's just me.  He smiled, shook my hand again, and wished me well on my trip, apparently content with his little moment of ginger solidarity in spite of the fact that I was flagrantly un-Irish of speech, red hair not withstanding.  I have to say, that's the first time I've ever been flagged down just for being a member of the club. Oh, London, you crazy city!

On the way back to the hotel to collect my bags I got to watch a couple making out across from me on the Tube.  I also noticed that men here are much less egregious about manspreading than they are on trains and subways at home.  Way to go, British men!  Thank you for not being selfish prats!!

When my bags were in tow I headed off to the station at Euston where I watched as my train to Aberystwyth closed up all the doors and started pulling out just as I was running down the platform.  Because that's how I roll...slowly and inefficiently, apparently. After muttering several artistic and unladylike swears under my breath I slogged back up to the main part of the station to find an alternate train to Aberystwyth, which is significantly more difficult when you can't get good wifi on your phone to plot routes on Britrail.com.  I did figure out I would have to change trains in Birmingham regardless, so I found the next train heading there and hopped aboard thinking that I could just grab another train to Aberystwyth once there since they left fairly regularly from that station.

It's cute how I thought that.  For the most part, I did really well with the trains, but it soon became clear yet again just what a novice I really was when I got to Birmingham only to discover that I'd gone to the wrong station.  Turns out there are two stations in Birmingham and that they are each some distance apart.  I failed to double-check my original travel notes and so ended up at the incorrect station, thus missing the last train to Aberystwyth for that evening.  Nor could I find any buses headed that way.  I even asked about backtracking to the correct Birmingham station but was informed that by the time I got there, the last train to Aberystwyth would also have already left.  So I was stuck.  Fortunately I am resourceful, so I found a place to stay in town and called the guest house in Wales to tell them I was delayed.  It seems there is an advantage to being an ignorant American; it means I'm not afraid to ask for help when I get stuck and it means locals are more likely to be friendly and obliging when I do, even though you can almost hear them thinking, "Ah, bless...the poor idiotic dear."  Can't say it's entirely unjustified.

Tomorrow--Wales!!!

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