Friday, January 29, 2016

Victorian Lead Smelters and Redwing Chapels


 My ancestor, John Cowen, was born here and not in Blaydon House. I think.


For a while there I thought I had an illustrious ancestor, Joseph Cowen, the radical Liberal MP from Newcastle on Tyne. Yea, I thought.

Looking up my great grandmother Emma Cowen's father, John, born 1832, I saw he was born in Blaydon, which would make him the brother of this man.

There was no other John Cowen born in Durham in 1832, so it had to be him.

But, no, I was foiled by a typo. My John was misspelled under Cowin. The John Cowin born 1932 in South Bedburn, where a future census claimed he was born.

Joseph Cowen, my great great great grandfather. Grocer. "Nation of Shopkeeepers" I wonder what kind of job grocer was.  In the Edwardian era in Canada to own the general store meant you had prestige and power. You could sway voters.

I am not the descendent of a radical liberal politician, friend to anglo-Jewry, but a descendant of an Victorian Age auctioneer, who was the son of a grocer, who was the son of another grocer, who was the son of someone who worked in the lead smelters.

Lead smelters, now there's the hideous job I was looking for.

It didn't take me long to find out all about the lead mining industry in Alston, Cumberland, where most of my Cowen's lived. (The place is still crawling with Cowen's.)

Lots of books out there on the subject. I downloaded a book off archive.org  about Alston and its pastoral and mining people.



For a time, apparently, lead mining was the only industry in the area, so my ancestor had no choice.

He had about 8 kids so that work didn't dampen his mojo.

Lead was in everything back then, even in food, up until 1900 or so.

 You see,  lead smells and tastes nice. That's why, in the 1960's, I enjoyed the ubiquitous aroma of car exhaust pouring out of the back end of the neon coloured T-birds on our street where I happily jumped hopscotch, despite understanding it wasn't good for me.

These Durham Cowen's were all religious, but what we refer to as dissenters. Their births and marriages were registered at RedWing Chapel, Garrigle, Cumberland.

Here's a picture from a genealogy  website.
from www.fivenine.co.uk.

Here's a drawing of the same chapel in the book about Alston and its people.


Yep, it's getting easier and easier to find things about genealogy on the web. That pastime used to the purview of people with enormous patience and no small amount of leisure time.

 Soon, I imagine, you'll just enter your name into a search engine, and you'll know everything about your ancestors in a pop. (For a fee, no doubt.)

Your DNA will likely tell another story, but, that, too, you'll be able to uncover in minutes, by licking a stick from a  10.00 Walmart kit, like a modern pregnancy test.

In the interim, there's so much misinformation out there, on the Internet, it can present a peculiar problem.

In my genealogy writing course it is encouraged to include copious footnotes - and, I'm told, beware other people's genealogies posted on those Pay-As-You-Go websites.  They often contain mistakes.

(It is quite possible that many people using the sites are quite as sloppy as I am.)

Now, I looked up Victorian Auctioneers - and it seems that was an OK job, with a chance to make big money, but, also, a job that preyed on misery.

All those Victorian bankruptcies chonicled by the likes of Mr. Charles Dickens.

There's an awful scene in Middlemarch is it? No, in Mill on the Floss. Or maybe in Anna of the Five Towns, where I wish my ancestors were from because it would be romantic.

And Thackery, too, it appears, did not like auctioneers, showing them to be  insensitive.
My Rembrandt vase made in Stoke on Trent - but it comes from my French Canadian side of the family.

Anyway, my Cowan ancestors come from a place called Bishop Auckland and Witton le Wear. Just a Google Earth click away!

My brother told me my father had told him that our Cowen's came from Ireland, originally. (Gee, I only learned today I had Cowen ancestry.)

Well, I looked up a bit about that surname and some Scottish Cowen's did go to Ireland to become Scotch Irish Presbyterians, to be discriminated against.

I also found a theory that some Cowen's were Cohen's, Sephardic Jews.

(And looking all this up took about 1 hour. So beware mistakes.)