My Family History in 52 Tweets

A project for 2019 – 52 illustrated tweets that sum up my family and my family’s history. Documents, objects, photos, people, places – it all counts. One tweet every Tuesday.

52/52 When it comes to family heirlooms, it doesn’t get much better than this. The Christmas present given to my mum in 1927 (when she was 4 months old) by her maternal grandparents, complete with the original accompanying note written by my great grandfather.


Silver spoon and ‘pusher’. A Christmas gift to my mum from her grandparents, 1927

51/52 One of my favourite family heirlooms comes out of its box once a year and takes pride of place on our family Christmas Tree. It belonged to my grandma and it’s about 50 years old. It serves as a reminder of Christmases past and offers hope for the future.


Christmas Tree ornament, formerly owned by my grandma, ca.1960s

50/52 As a teenager, my granny worked for Boots, the chemists. Here’s another gem from her treasure box; a Christmas card from Jesse and Lady Boot which would have dropped through the letter box of her Edinburgh tenement flat almost exactly 100 years ago.


Christmas Card from Sir Jesse and Lady Boot, sent to my granny, 1919

49/52 Postcards are a great source for local & family history research. One of my favourite acquisitions is this view of Portobello Beach, c.1915, when my gt grandparents were living there. Their address was 26 Promenade, in the large building with the turrets.


Portobello Beach, postcard, ca.1915

48/52 Here’s another from my favourite family heirloom, my grandma’s photo album. This is her posing on a motorbike with her friend Christine in the side car. I’d love to know more about this period in her life. She seems to have had an amazing time in her 20s.


Photograph of my grandma (Margaret Howland) and her friend Christine Peace Hope, ca.1930

47/52 I’ve been at my dad’s in Edinburgh for the past few days. I spent much of my time there relaxing in his conservatory, on the wall of which is this Cart Plate, an early form of vehicle registration, which once belonged to my 2xGt Grandfather, James Annal.


Cart plate, formerly owned by my great great grandfather, James Annal of Lythes, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

46/52 My great grandfather was a railwayman, exempted from military service in WW1. His brother John Henry Norquay Annal wasn’t so lucky. He served with the Sutherland Highlanders & the Gordon Highlanders and was killed in action on 22 March 1918. #LestWeForget


John Henry Norquay Annal, killed in action, 22 March 1918

45/52 One of the family’s most treasured possessions is this recipe book, started by my wife’s great aunt in 1912. Luise Schwarz survived WW2, despite being deported to Gurs in 1940 and returned to her native Landau, where she died in 1966. Apfelstrudel anyone?


Recipe book of Luise ‘Liesel’ Schwarz, 1912

44/52 My grandad joined the RAF in WW2. He joined as an Aircraftman 2nd Class and was promoted to Corporal in September 1941. His character was ‘Very Good’ and he earned a Good Conduct Badge. I know all this because I got a copy of his service record last week.

William Annal RAF Uniform 2

My grandfather, William Annal, ca.1941

43/52 My grandma was illegitimate and her mother went to a lot of trouble to try to cover it up. On a 1909 passenger list she appears as a widow with her young child, while the 1911 census records my grandma as her niece. Social stigma has a lot to answer for.


Margaret Howland senior and junior, ca.1914

42/52 I think I’ll just leave this one to speak for itself. Taken from my 1975 school report: ‘History E Tests suggest a brain about average in the form but since every piece of work has to be driven out of him – often late – it is not easy to classify him. DW’


My school History report, 1975

41/52 It’s quite rare to have pictures of our ancestors at work, particularly our female ones. So I’m delighted to have this photo of my granny, which helpfully has a note on the back, written by my mum. “Mother at Boot’s, Argyle Place”. Edinburgh, mid-1920s?

Elizabeth Gray Davidson in Boots, Argyle Place, Edinburgh 1920s

My granny, Elizabeth Gray Davidson, Boots, Argyle Place, Edinburgh, ca.1922

40/52 My mother-in-law was a very talented artist and we have a number of her paintings around the house. One of her most precious pieces of work is this 1945 calendar which she made for her mother. The dates worked for 2018 so we had it on display last year.


Calendar, by Susanne Schwarz, 1945

39/52 In May 1936, my grandparents applied for a house in the new Edinburgh suburb of Carrick Knowe. My grandma kept this document, confirming their application and setting out the terms of their tenancy. She lived there until shortly before her death in 1990.


Tenancy agreement, 1936

38/52 If any of our ancestors’ correspondence survives, it’s probably letters written to them rather than by them. Here’s a letter from a friend of my granny’s, written in 1925. With its personal touches, it tells me more about her than most official documents.


Letter written to my granny, 1925

37/52 I never knew my paternal grandfather, William Annal. He died nearly eight years before I was born but I have lots of photos of him as well as this charcoal portrait which was made in 1944 by Victor Frank Canning while they were both serving in the RAF.


Portrait of my grandfather, William Annal by V F Canning, 1944 (in charcoal)

36/52 My wife’s ancestor, Christopher Hulme, was born on the Staffordshire farm which his family had farmed for centuries, but ended up, literally, in the gutter! In 1851 his address was The Gutters, Macclesfield, the centre of a major cholera outbreak in 1849.


The Gutters, a slum area of Macclesfield, from Old Macclesfield by Doug Pickford, 1984

35/52 Old family letters provide us with a rare opportunity to hear our ancestors’ voices. Here my mother-in-law, aged 12, is writing to her grandmother ‘Liebe Großmütti’ in 1939 and we have the added bonus of a personal illustration. Note the Sütterlin script.


Letter written by Susanne Schwarz to her grandmother, 13 February 1939

34/52 I’m away this week, staying in a gîte in Brittany. Summer holidays are a big part of our lives today but they were important for our ancestors too. Here are my mum and her brothers Charlie and Dennis on the beach at Aberdour in Fife sometime around 1936.


Charles, Dennis and Kathleen Flynn, Aberdour, Fife ca.1936

33/52 I have a long list of things that I intend to research when I have the time; this photo is near the top of it. It shows my great grandfather David John Davidson as an Edinburgh militiaman, in the 1890s. He’s right in the middle of the picture. An officer?


Edinburgh Militia, c.1890s

32/52 Most of my ancestors seem to have died (peacefully?) in their beds but John Flynn was less fortunate. He drowned in Granton Harbour in August 1881 having been imprisonned for stealing a dog just three months earlier. It’s difficult not to link the events.


Edinburgh Evening News 30 May 1881 p.3 col.b

31/52 My 3x grt grandfather Peter Annal is the ancestor I’d most like to know more about. Born in 1799, he spent his 20s working in Hudsons Bay & had a child with a local Metis woman before returning to Orkney, where he married and had 13 more. He died in 1892.


30/52 When it comes to getting to know your ancestors there’s nothing quite like a good photo album. I inherited one from my grandma, full of pictures from the late 1920s/early ‘30s. Here’s one of my favourites, including my grandad, at the front on the right.


My grandfather, William Annal (front right) with unknown friends, ca.1930

29/52 Born on Eday, a small Orkney island in 1857, my 2x great grandfather, James Miller, moved to Kirkwall as a young man and then to Edinburgh, where he died in 1946. I often struggle to comprehend the changes he must have witnessed during his long lifetime.


Birth certificate of James Miller – National Records of Scotland, 1857 Eday

28/52 I’ve inherited some great family photos and this is one of my favourites. It was taken outside the family home in South Ronaldsay, Orkney, probably following the funeral of my 2x great grandfather, James Annal, in 1921. I know who 9 of the 10 people are.


The Annal family, outside the farm at Lythes, South Ronaldsay, 1921

27/52 My family doesn’t have a long history of formal education. My dad went to George Heriot’s and my brothers & I went to Watford Grammar School but we didn’t take it any further. In 2015 my older daughter was the first member of the Annal family to graduate.


My wife, Liz, our daughter Catherine and me, at Catherine’s graduation, 2015

26/52 As Family Bibles go, it’s not exactly the most informative, but it’s been in my wife’s family for nearly 153 years now. James Wadsworth, the original owner, was her 4x great grandfather. It was given to my father-in-law when he went to Cambridge in 1951.


Bible, formerly owned by James Wadsworth of Macclesfield

25/52 I spent the last few days on the Isle of Man, the birthplace of my grandma’s maternal grandparents. Having Manx ancestors turns out to be a thoroughly good idea; the land/tenancy records are plentiful and detailed and practically every adult left a will.

1800-Ewan Howland of Andreas will (1)_e

Opening section of the will of my 5x great grandfather, Ewan Howland of Andreas, Isle of Man (1800)

24/52 As average life expectancy grows, so does the number of people whose great grandparents are still alive when they’re born. All eight of mine had died before I was born; my grandma’s mum, Margaret Howland, who died in January 1958, was the closest I got.

scotlandspeople_d1958_685_08_0025z (Edited)

Death certificate of Margaret Howland – National Records of Scotland ref: 1958 Leith 685/8 73

23/52 Family heirlooms come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s my personal favourite, but quite how my granny, living in her tenement flat in a very working class part of Edinburgh, ended up with this late 19th Century French mantle clock, I will never understand.


My Granny’s late 19th century French mantle clock

22/52 If I could solve just one family history brickwall it would be the question of my grandma’s paternal grandfather’s parentage. I have a theory that I’ve been unable to disprove after 40 years of searching. I’m just waiting for that vital piece of evidence!

D7o3huNXsAELmzf.jpg large

The collapsed gravestone of my 2x Great Grandfather, Thomas Port (c.1822-1900) in Key Hill Cemetery, Birmingham

21/52 I’ve always encouraged my daughters to take an interest in our family history. My younger daughter certainly has the bug and she’s just written a blog for my website about her ongoing research into her Oma’s life as a ‘Mischling’ in wartime Berlin.


A page from Oma’s 1943 diary

20/52 My father-in-law would have been 86 last Sunday. Born into a working class Macclesfield family, he benefited from the Social Mobility aims of the 1944 Education Act. He went to Grammar School, won a scholarship to Cambridge and ended up as an RAF Officer.

IMG_7674 (Edited)

John Hulme with his daughter, Elizabeth, c.1962

19/52 I never got to meet either of my grandfathers. My dad’s father died in 1953, before I was born. My mum’s left his family in Edinburgh and married bigamously in London. My only knowledge of him growing up was my Granny’s nickname for him: ‘Old Buggerlugs’

img_0076 (Edited)

My grandfather, Charles Flynn (1898-1968), aka ‘Old Buggerlugs’

18/52 After years of resisting, I bit the bullet a few months ago and took a DNA test. The results are now in and the Ethnicity Estimate looks quite convincing although I suspect that the 46% ‘Northern England’ largely relates to my Scottish Borders ancestors.


My ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ courtesy of

17/52 My fascination with churchyards & gravestones may seem slightly macabre, but it’s difficult to ignore their value to family historians. These five lichen-encrusted stones standing together in an Orkney churchyard record the names of 19 of my relatives.

st peter's, south ronaldsay

Annal family gravestones in St Peter’s Kirkyard, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

16/52 If, like me, you have an unusual surname (and you’re a little bit OCD) a One-Name Study might be the thing for you. All Annals living today can trace their roots to either Orkney or Fife. Here’s the document which links the Yorkshire Annals to Anstruther.


Cupar Sheriff Court Register of Deeds – Warrants. National Records of Scotland ref: SC20/36/12

15/52 An awareness of sources for local, social & political history is essential for genealogists. My Howland ancestors worked in a lead mining community in Wanlockhead. Researching the lives and experiences of the miners is both enlightening and distressing.


Photograph from The Museum of Lead Mining, Wanlockhead Village

14/52 Each of our 32 3x great grandparents is as much a part of our genetic makeup as the other 31. Mary Jenkins of Oxford is just as important as my Orcadian Annals but I know next to nothing about her. Why do we spend more time researching some than others?

1808-benjamin layton mary jenkins marriage bod200_b_44_019 (Edited)

Marriage of Benjamin Layton & Mary Jenkins, St Ebbe’s, Oxford

13/52 How do we get the next generation to engage with FH? Perhaps the most important thing is to put our ancestors’ lives into historical context. My younger daughter is researching her grandmother’s life in Berlin in WW2 and now plans to write her life story.


My mother-in-law’s war-time diaries and sketchbook and Resistance of the Heart by Nathan Stoltzfus

12/52 I got married 37 years ago today. Not only did I gain a life-partner but I also instantly doubled the size of my family tree. And my wife didn’t just bring her love, kindness and support – she also provided me with English and German lines to research!

IMG_7045 (Edited)

Me and my wife, with her assorted English and German relatives, March 1982

11/52 My 85-year old dad’s with us for a couple of days, which gives me another opportunity to tease out some family history nuggets. An hour or two in the company of an old photo album is a great way of triggering memories. It’s amazing what you can pick up…


My dad (Eric Annal) aged about 16, outside his mum’s house in Carrick Knowe, Edinburgh, ca.1950

10/52 When do we become part of our family’s history? I suppose it starts the day we’re born, but we don’t see it until we’re much older. It was my younger brother’s 54th birthday yesterday – I guess we’re very much part of the history now! Here we are in 1967.


L to R: Me, my brother John and my brother Pete, ca.1967

9/52 It’s always nice when you find your ancestor on one of those ‘off the beaten track’ documents and it’s even better when you find their signature on it. Here’s my 3x great grandfather, Peter Annal, signing his contract with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1820.


Peter Annal’s contract with the Hudsons Bay Company, 1820, A32-20 (detail)

8/52 It’s often said that family history is about names, dates and places but it’s also about ‘things’. The artefacts we inherit from our ancestors can help us to tell their stories. Here’s a cart plate once owned by my Orcadian 2xgt grandfather, James Annal.


James Annal’s Cart Plate, now on my dad’s conservatory wall

7/52 Twenty seven years ago this week, I became a dad. Happy Birthday (tomorrow) to my older daughter Catherine Maggie Annal, now a brilliant, hard-working Primary School teacher. Family History is as much about the present & the future as it is about the past.

IMG_6442 (Edited)

Me and my daughter, Catherine Maggie Annal, February 1992

6/52 Our lives are full of seemingly inconsequential, life-changing events. In 1979 I saw a job in the local paper, got the job and met my wife. Here are my parents in 1949, before they met. They’d both joined the Tynecastle branch of the Hibs Supporters Club.

Hibs Supporters Club Tynecastle Branch 1949

Hibernian FC Supporters Club, Tynecastle Branch, ca.1949

5/52 My grandma (pictured here with her mother) was illegitimate. Her father isn’t named on her birth certificate. If she hadn’t told me what she knew about him, I would never have known about this whole branch of the family. There’s a lesson there somewhere…

margaret howland & margaret howland

My grandma, Margaret Howland (1906-1990) with her mother, also Margaret Howland (1872-1958), ca.1914

4/52 In the summer of 1978, Uncle Tom came to stay. I asked my mum how we were related (I knew he wasn’t her brother or my dad’s) and we drew up a family tree – which I still have. Turns out he was my granny’s cousin. The rest, as they say, is (Family) History.

family tree

My first family tree, drawn up with assistance from my mum (Kathleen Flynn), 1978

3/52 What got you hooked on FH? For me it was an interest in royal genealogies, the trees at the back of The Lord of the Rings & our pedigree cat! But mostly it was the Gordon Honeycombe TV series & Don Steel’s book which taught me that me I could do it myself.


Discovering Your Family History by Don Steel (BBC Publications, 1980)

2/52 I was born 58 years ago last Sunday at Edinburgh’s Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital. This is Elsie Inglis (1864-1917), doctor, suffragist and hospital founder. Dr. Inglis helped to make childbirth safer for mothers and their children. Thank you!

2 elsie inglis

Portrait of Dr. Elsie Inglis from the Welcome Collection

1/52 Everyone has one; that box or envelope full of certificates and other useful documents. You might get lucky and inherit them from your granny. And of course they have inbuilt provenance. They belonged to your family so you know that they’re the right ones.

1 Documents.JPG

Family documents. Photograph by David Annal, 2019.

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