N is for next generation

We tend to think of family history as people before us but it’s important to record current generations too. The next generation will thank you for it, eventually!

How to help the next generation

  • Have you added names to all your family photos? Hardcopy ones, yes maybe? But what about all the digital ones? Here’s an article with information on how to write on the back of a digital photo
  • Are you storing photographs and documents in the best way? The US National Archives has information on preserving family papers and photographs with pictures to help . There’s briefer advice from a UK archivist here or some more detailed advice from Staffordshire Archives.
  • Are you building up an archive of current events – birth For the next generation pic of my uncle's funeral leafletannouncement cards, wedding invitations, funeral service leaflets and so on? You could scan these documents too in order to minimise wear and tear on them. This page from my uncle’s funeral leaflet has a lot of valuable information.
  • What about recording your memories about these people, stories from your own childhood, the things you reminisce about at family gatherings?

This is just a starter list. Don’t forget to celebrate the next generation and record their achievements too. Here’s a link to my first cousin twice removed and her band, Hellia. First cousin twice removed? Her grandfather is my first cousin.

Grandma’s elderflower wine

Jessie Sclater, my grandma, and her sisters, “the aunties o Kebro”, were all very competent women: working on the farm, managing the house, baking, cooking, brewing and, in grandma’s case, making elderflower wine. Nothing evokes the long, light, summer days of my Orkney childhood like the fragrant, sparkling taste of grandma’s elderflower wine. Food and drink are very much part of the meat of family history, if you will excuse the pun.

Jessie Sclater as a young woman

Jessie Sclater (1887-1970) as a young woman

Grandma began making elderflower wine in the early 1940s after the family moved from Hogarth, Rendall, to take up the tenancy of Yarpha, home farm of the Smoogro estate in Orphir, the parish where both my grandparents were born and grew up. James, my grandfather, bought the farm after owner and author J Storer Clouston’s death.

Conditions were perfect for elderflower wine: many boor trees, as they are called in Orkney, (sambucus nigra is the botanical name) grew around Yarpha; there was a cool dairy for storage of the maturing drink; and above all the presence of a thrifty and industrious woman. “Thee faither wurked haird but thee mither wurked even hairder”, as another Orcadian said to my mother.

An elderflower head or two

Elderflower heads

In later years my mother and two aunts made the drink and I have been making it for some time too. I hope my nephew and niece will follow suit, maintaining the tradition. I should say that it is a not an alcoholic drink, at least not at the stage where we drank it as children, though it can become rather explosive, bursting glass bottles on occasion, particularly in hot weather.

Until yesterday it had been a poor summer so far this year in Scotland, not least in Orkney, so the elderflowers are late. Here is grandma’s recipe is you want to give it a try. All in imperial measures.

Grandma’s elderflower wine recipe

2 gallons of cold water (16 imperial pints)
3 pounds of white sugar
3 lemons
3 tablespoons of white vinegar
4 elderflower heads (I usually add more – 6 or even 8 depending on size)

Wash the lemons and cut in half, squeeze the juice, add the juice and lemon halves to the water along with the sugar and vinegar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Give the elderflower heads a good shake to remove any wildlife(!) but do not wash, add to the mix and stir again. Cover with a cloth and leave to steep for a day (24 hours). Give the lemon halves a final squeeze and stir the mixture again then strain through muslin (cheesecloth) and bottle. Plastic bottles are OK, glass bottles are better; screw tops or well fitting push-in tops are essential. Store in a cool place though some heat is needed in the first few weeks to get the fizzy going. [Update:  for some reason, the “fizz” is very slow to work this year and I’m having to keep the bottles in the kitchen for several weeks. You will need to see how things go for you.} Once the drink is fizzy,  I store half in fridge and half in the house for a week and then swap over. Might be ready to drink after about a fortnight; taking much longer this year. It is sweet and slightly fizzy but not at all alcoholic at this stage. It probably does become alcoholic with long keeping. Enjoy.

My father’s favourite cousin

Sandy Barnett died on 5 April 1941 as a result of an air attack on the SS Rattray Head, eight miles ENE of Aberdeen. The Rattray Head was a 496 ton steam cargo ship on a voyage from Leith, her home port, to Stromness, Orkney.  “Young Sandy”, so called to distinguish him from his father, was a lamp trimmer, that is a member of the deck crew responsible for navigation and other lights. He was 33 and the only son of Sandy and the late Jemima Barnett.

My father had a prodigious memory and knew all about the sinking of the Rattray Head, which would have happened about four months before he was called up. How I wish I could remember all he said.  It seems that as the crew made for their lifeboat the German plane returned and strafed the ship with machine gun fire. Sandy may have gone back to the bridge for something, possibly a knife to cut the lifeboat’s ropes, but at that point he was fatally wounded. Quite unusually for an Orcadian seaman, he was a strong swimmer so could have stood a reasonable chance of survival but for the shooting.

His body washed ashore at Crail, Fife, some way down the east coast of Scotland, and that is where he is buried (scroll down the link page to see his gravestone). He is also named on his parents’ gravestone in Osmondwall Kirkyard, Longhope, Orkney. When my parents visited Crail in the 1950s they met by chance someone who had been at the service when Sandy’s body was buried. Quite a poignant meeting as Sandy was my father’s favourite cousin, though about 14 years older than him.

Sandy Barnett and his sister Ellen

Sandy Barnett and his sister Ellen

I guess it was probably that kind of liking you have for older cousins who are kind and very tolerant despite your youth. I have only been able to find one photo of him, with his sister Ellen whom I remember very well. Unfortunately it is a fairly poor photo.

The captain of SS Rattray Head, a Shetland man, Matthew Leask from Bressay, and the fireman, Charles V Tookey, were also lost. They are among almost 24,000 merchant seamen and fishermen from WW2 who have no grave but are commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.  It seems that only those three were lost but I have yet to establish how many other crew there were as I write this, almost 74 years to the day after the event.

For more information on the ship itself and the wreck, see www.wrecksite.eu

Battleships-cruisers.co.uk lists merchant ships and fishing boats lost as a result of enemy action in WW2, three on 5 April 1941 alone.