52 weeks - Biggest achievement in research
In April of this year, the 3rd to be exact, my wife handed me a sheaf of letters written from her favourite Uncle (Harold R Gibson) to her favourite Aunt (Julia Daisy Paterson) whilst on his way to the First World War from New Zealand to England. I did not know to that point that these letters existed. The letters began with him going in to army camp in Wellington, his travels on the troopship convoy overseas and his arrival and stay in and around London. The letters were brown with age, creased and crumpled and all written in ink. Unfortunately her replies were thrown out years ago after they were accidentally water-damaged. I made the pledge to try and transcribe these 42 letters into a readable form for her family and so began the task of laboriously going through each one and typing them into an Open Office format. Each letter had to be exact in every detail down to commas, fullstops, paragraphs, sentences, all exactly as he wrote them. Thus began one of the most wonderful journeys of my life. Actually being with Harold on his daily work as a Doctor on board a troopship, learning of his life, his ambitions, his dreams and his love (he and Daisy were engaged when he left for overseas), seeing through his writings the places he visited, the people he met, the illnesses he attended, the sights and sounds of England and London; these all were a revelation to me. His descriptions of people and places, of customs and prejudices, attitudes etc were amazing from an educated man and Doctor. Additionally, as an officer, he was also a censor on board the ship which allowed him to formulate letters carefully to include everything he wanted to say and yet to avoid any deletions and also to comment on his concerns for having to read and censor other letters from his fellow-soldiers. In one letter, for example, he discusses with his Aunt in Scotland the fact that a large family painting of Robert Paterson ('Old Mortality' in the novel by Sir Walter Scott) had not been seen by anyone in England for many decades. Harold had an idea it ended up in New Zealand but he wasn't sure. As a family in New Zealand we know that the fully-restored painting hangs pride-of-place above the mantlepiece of a son in Auckland. If only the Aunt and Harold had known. Through comments like this we all learned a lot about family social involvements and social attitudes of the early 20th century.
Coincidently, I began typing on the 3rd April 2012, 95 years to the day from the date of his first letter. I typed his last letter on 20th July. Where he has mentioned people or places that may be of interest I have added references, photos, scripts, texts and information at the end of each letter which gives an immediate insight and history to those items of interest. The end result is a fairly solid document which I had printed and bound and proudly forwarded to selected members of the family, especially those older members who knew the couple through to their deaths in the 1970's and 80's. Many tears flowed in the days following. They all remembered this wonderful couple with great fondness. Even Harold's opening words on letter Number 1, 'My dear Baby-doll' to letter number 27 beginning 'My dear old woman' give an insight to a man of which his family had never considered. Wonderful stuff.
The completed work in book form, 'Letters to Daisy', has been put on to disc and has been submitted, with the originals, to the Alexander Turnbull National Library in Wellington for safe-keeping. They were delighted to receive them and the completed work will be included in a special commemorative book the library is producing for the Centenary of the First World War due out next year.
Now, of course, I am extremely proud of the effort put in and the research needed to give as much information as possible that has sent me down many new roads to follow in the research of family history, a lot of which has already proven highly, and unexpectedly, successful.
For anyone with such documents I can thoroughly recommend putting in the effort to transcribe them for future generations to enter in to their own family histories.
Orewa Beach, Auckland,