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How I Became a Time Traveller

The title of this blog is a bit misleading. No, friends, I have not broken the time-space continuum, as much as I would love to be among the first. In a more realistic sequence of events, I’ve been working with Althea Douglas on the release of her new genealogy title, Time Traveller’s Handbook.

Althea has dedicated her life to exploring various parts of the past and the way our ancestors lived. She certainly has experience to share on the subject, so my next two blogs are going to be dedicated to Althea’s insights.

How did Althea fall into the world of the past? Read on to find out: time_travel-23456

My addiction to time travel probably started with my grandfather’s tales of his voyage to Ireland on one of his father’s sailing ships. They had a clever pig onboard that made its bed according to whether the ship was going to pitch or roll. The pig knew before the sailors. I imagine the pig was eaten for the return trip took sixty days from Cork to Saint John. They ran very low on food and water and when the teen-age traveller found a ship’s biscuit that had fallen behind his bunk, he blessed his luck, tapped it on the table several times until the maggots fell out, then promptly ate it. Now a tale with a smart pig, danger, hunger — and maggots! — what more could a child want.

Growing up I read all the historical novels the children’s library held, but in university I took a degree in science. There was a war on so I had no choice, but we had to take one arts subject each year and I chose theatre. Thus my first career was as a theatrical costumer for productions ranging from the Greeks, through Shakespeare, Sheridan, Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw. I delved into those eras, learning what people wore, how their clothes were made, and how to fake them on a low budget.

Because I worked for the McGill Department of English, I felt I ought to know something about English literature so started graduate studies and wrote my M.A. thesis on “Chaucer’s Use of Dress”. It wasn’t a very good thesis but got me another degree, and a thorough knowledge of life in the years just after the Black Death devastated the population of Europe and Britain.

In the spring of 1960 I gave up costuming and asked my thesis director, Dr. Hemlow, if she needed help with her Burney Project. It was to be a part-time volunteer summer job to keep me amused while my husband built a television station. It turned into a new career where I spent the next fifteen years of my life helping to edit the letters and research the life of Fanny Burney (Madame d’Arblay) from 1791 to 1840, reading the newspapers, books and pamphlets she read, finding accounts of the events she attended, reviews of plays she saw, making notes of the gossip and scandals she knew about and identifying everyone she mentioned, thus I became a genealogist, an archivist, an editor and a writer.

A couple of years ago, when TVO and PBS both had Jane Austen festivals I watched both and reread all Austen’s novels. It was sort of like going home to a world I already knew. My niece was also captivated but as we talked, I realized that for her, that past was a foreign country. So began this idea of a guide for other time-travellers who have not spent the years I have voyaging and living there.

Althea Douglas has written numerous articles on genealogy, Canadian local history, and heritage conservation. Her previous books include Tools of the Trade for Canadian Genealogists, Help! I’ve Inherited an Attic Full of History, and Here Be Dragons: Navigational Hazards for the Canadian Family Researcher. She lives in Ottawa.

About the author

Marta is the Publicity Assistant at Dundurn. Aside from blogging and pitching media, she likes ice skating, tacos, and David Bowie.


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