Week 8 – easy all-in-one turkey roast

Having picked up a rolled 1.5kg piece of turkey breast at a bargain price the other week, I went in search of a suitable recipe for how to roast it – it needed to be something not too awfully complicated and that wouldn’t mean spending the entire afternoon in the kitchen. After quite some searching around and drawing a blank, M found this recipe (in German) and we decided to follow it. I haven’t found a direct equivalent in English so am going to write up my version of it here, including some modifications to the original. It was amazingly tasty, and the best thing about it was that you had the meat, vegetables and a magically generated gravy all in one roasting tin…

Stuffed rolled turkey joint with vegetables


2-3 cloves of garlic, cut into slivers
75g fresh spinach (we actually used a bag of baby-leaf salad, containing spinach, chard and rocket)
a medium-sized onion, finely chopped
125g mozzarella, diced (I might try feta next time)
1.3-1.5kg rolled turkey joint (the original recipe suggested the piece should be about 3cm thick)
6 slices Parma ham (or equivalent variety)
2tbsp olive oil
750ml chicken stock
200ml dry white wine
1kg root vegetables, cut into largish bite-sized chunks (I used potatoes, carrots, celeriac)
250g shallots, peeled (halved or quartered if larger ones)
several peeled, whole cloves of garlic (optional)
fresh thyme


1. Preheat the oven to 175°C or equivalent. Roll out the turkey on a chopping board. Make small incisions in it and push the garlic slivers into these. Then lay the ham slices over the turkey, followed by the spinach leaves (removing any thick stalks beforehand), chopped onion and mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper, and you could also sprinkle over some thyme. Then roll up the turkey as tightly as you can and tie it up securely with kitchen string. Place in the centre of a generously sized roasting tin (any stuffing that fell out during the rolling process can be placed under the joint) and brush with olive oil  – you might not need the whole 2tbsp if the turkey still has skin on it. Mix the chicken stock and wine in a jug and ladle some of this over the meat before putting it into the oven for 45 minutes. You will probably need to ladle over some more of the liquid once or twice during this time so that the bottom of the pan doesn’t dry out and burn.

2. When the 45 minutes have elapsed, add the vegetables to the tin, along with some fresh thyme and the rest of the reserved liquid. Give the veg a good stir in the juices, then return the pan to the oven for another 45 minutes.

3. Leave the meat to rest briefly when it is done, then cut into thick slices and serve with the vegetables and gravy.


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In praise of good old indexes

I’ve written a bit before about the online resources available to genealogists and what can (and can’t) be done with them. It seems that every week something new is coming online, and the quality of digitized images and search parameters continues to improve almost palpably. But recently I’ve been working with some much more old-school tools – printed indexes – and have found working with them can be really quick, unstressful, extremely thorough and for a number of reasons much MORE efficient at finding that ancestal needle in a haystack than the slick interfaces of many online search facilities.

While nothing can beat working with original census returns, parish registers and the like for providing as much historical, social, geographical, chronological and cultural contextualization as one can hope to reconstruct – carefully! – from these records of a byegone age or community, the limitations imposed by ONLY having access to these should be obvious: travelling to see an original isn’t always possible, and trawling through heavy tomes, delicate parchment fragments or motion-sickness-inducing microfilms is certainly time-consuming and tiring, plus it can be all the more frustrating if information is illegible, elusive or absent. Online availability and search functions can  and do save a lot of time and effort IF you know how to search and, equally importantly, if the resource allows you to search in ways that are most likely to turn up what you are looking for – if it exists – without being either too narrow or too broad in focus. More about this later, but the basic point I wanted to make here is that for all the time and effort you can save through effective online searching, you are of necessity narrowing your focus each time you search and possibly missing out on important context and tangential discoveries that can ultimately provide a crucial missing link.

So what about the published indexes I mentioned earlier – what makes them so good, if they are neither the original source nor equipped with a high-tech search function? What I ordered was indexes to the (approx. 17th-19th century) baptism, marriage and burial registers for two parishes in South Wales, Llantwit Fardre and Pentyrch, produced and distributed in booklet format by the Glamorgan Family History Society and orderable online via e.g. Genfair. They arrived in the post remarkably quickly and I started flicking through them immediately, and with almost instant success. So who’d have thought a booklet could be so user-friendly? It was neither heavy nor unwieldy, very easy on the eye, there was no scrolling, clicking on links, waiting for pages to load, no mechanical typing of names and dates into boxes, and all sorts of details that caught my eye here and there without me having to make a deliberate decision to search for them. (Of course I’m not seriously surprised by any of this, though I’m not sure whether I should be amused or rather appalled that someone else might be…)

But the advantages of this format go much further, and here I can make direct comparisons with online resources, starting with findmypast.co.uk. Much of the information contained in these same booklets has been digitized and made available to search online at that site (I wrote about this a year ago, when that service launched its main Welsh collection), and I must say that the search parameters are pretty flexible: variants in spelling can be taken on board (and are handled sensitively and intelligently, on the whole) or ignored as you choose, and you can search by fore- and/or surname as you like, plus restrict by date and/or parish if relevant; for some of the records, a digital reproduction of the original pages of the registers can be accessed and browsed, so the online site does win in terms of access to something approaching an original (for those records where they have been made available, at least – coverage does seem patchy). However, the booklet index offers two further approaches that are not available as search options on findmypast; and these approaches prove absolutely invaluable (one could almost say, indispensible) in the context of these rural Welsh communities:

1. Patronymic indexes for baptisms

In the original registers, a 17th- or 18th-century baptism might be recorded as something like “David son of Evan Richard”, preceded or followed by the date of baptism (the mother’s name is not always given). The modern way of doing things would be to assume that little David was identified as David Richard, but depending on date, area and specific family tradition, back then he might in fact have been known henceforth as David Richards, David Evan, David Evans, David Bevan, or even David Evan Richard (with David Pri(t)chard and David ap Evan being further, albeit less likely choices).

GFHS approach to patronymic patterns and spelling variants

The booklets take this “systemic inconsistency” (my term: I know it sounds a bit flippant) into account, offering one index following the modern practice for all baptismal entries but for pre-Victorian entries also providing a further index alphabetized according to the father’s (or in e.g. some cases of illegitimacy, the mother’s) first name. All names are transcribed as they appear in the registers, so one does need to take care to look under e.g. Howel AND Howell AND Howells, but you can see immediately whether there are entries for these (or further) variants and it really doesn’t take long to flick through the entire index if you’re on the lookout for more unusual variants (especially those that might not be alphabetically adjacent).

Online search facilities’ approaches to the same issues

The online resources largely ignore (or are unaware of) the existence of the older naming system. On findmypast, if you suspect the individual you are looking for may have been given an older patronymic-style name, you have to leave the surname blank and hope for a manageable number of results, then click your way through to every individual record to see whether the father’s first name is what you might have expected – which can be pretty time-consuming. In addition to this, some records have been attached to the wrong parish name, or the parish name is missing, so even if you restrict by parish (which is perfectly possible), you might not get an entirely reliable set of results (this is a known issue and they are working on it, by the way).

To the best of my knowledge, only familysearch.com gives you the option of searching using a combination of child’s first name and father’s first name only (other combinations are also possible), and this LDS site also has a powerful, apparently pretty reliable function for taking on board variant spellings. A further resource, freereg.org.uk, which in general I find absolutely laudable in its efforts to make church and chapel register entries freely available online, some of which are just not available on the “bigger” or more commercial sites, really falls by the wayside here and becomes extremely hard to use for older Welsh records: not only are you obliged to enter a (modern-style) surname, but e.g. Evan and Evans are considered two separate names, even if you check the “include variants” option, and so there is a lot of doubling-up on searches and making a mental note of your various “+s” and “-s” search history, assuming you even have a semi-workable surname to search for in the first place. Likewise, ancestry.com is not terribly reliable when it comes to soundex other ways of searching for variants. Ultimately, none of these technologies replaces the watchful human eye in that respect (or, indeed, various others).

A practical example of how some of these features play out: I had an elusive ancestor called Mallt Thomas (according to her marriage record) who was born in around 1735 (calculated from the age given on her burial record). I had hoped to find her baptism in Llantwit Fardre (where she married and was buried) but I drew a blank in both of the baptism indexes for that parish. I decided to take a look in the Pentyrch records while I had them immediately to hand, and hey presto, I found her in the patronymic index: she was the daughter of a Thomas William. The Pentyrch baptism records for this date seem not to be available on findmypast or familysearch, so I wouldn’t have found her there even on the basis of a forename-only search. And on freereg, which does have the records for that date, I’d potentially have had to try out all sorts of guesses for the surname box – admittedly, William(s) would have been one of my first choices, but still, the booklets were much quicker in providing the information I was looking for.

2. Details of abode / address

William(s) turns out to be just about one of the most common surnames (by any of the systems used) in this part of South Wales over the entire period covered by the registers, and another headache I’ve had to deal with on a regular basis is the sheer number of individuals with identical names and similar dates of birth. Not surprisingly, back in the day people were often referred to by attributes other than their name – their profession (think “Jones the Voice” or one or two of the characters from Under Milk Wood) or their abode. My ancestor David Morgan (Mallt Thomas’s son, incidentally) had brothers called Thomas and Evan, but then again so did a great many David Morgans in South Wales at the time. I know from passed-down snippets of information, though, that Thomas was better known as “Twmi’r Gedrys” and Evan as “Ifan o’r Waran”, Gedrys and Waran (or Warren) being the names of the farms they managed. Flicking through the Morgan entries in the Llantwit Fardre registers can be a daunting task – based on the names alone, you can’t see the wood for the trees – but the presence of an additional column on each page for any abode noted in the original PRs can REALLY help to pick out a possible spouse, children etc. Again, spelling variants are part and parcel of this – and place names do genuinely evolve over time – but it really is very quick to scan the “abode” column for any forms of names that might look familiar or resemble others.

How do the online resources compare here? Rather poorly. In most cases you can’t search by abode on any finer level than the name of the parish itself, and even if an address, farm or township is specified in the original records, it is not necessarily transcribed in the indexes that have been made searchable. Findmypast has in some cases double, even triple sets of data derived from different “levels” of indexing, one with the residence included and the other not – so you do need to learn which results to look at first to get hold of this information; better still, look at the original image if it is available (and if your mouse-clicking finger isn’t tired by this point).

Who provides the transcriptions in each case is also of relevance. The family history society transcripts and indexes are put together by genealogists  (largely unpaid volunteers!) with knowledge of the locality concerned, manuscript and handwriting conventions (including a range of abbreviations), and the language(s) of the region. Even the best transcriber of historical records will have to scratch their head and make a “best guess” from time to time, but the results are plausible and variance is only slight. In contrast, the census transcriptions available on the biggest international genealogy site, ancestry.com, are in some cases WILDLY inaccurate and can only have been done by people without the specific range of knowledge mentioned above. People’s names, addresses, ages, family status and occupations can all be mistranscribed, rendering them unfindable in searches, and Welsh placenames understandably present a further level of challenge. Even the National Library of Wales’ (largely excellent, extremely valuable) probate records search is hard to use from the aspect of place names: it’s great that you can search by parish, but in each case only one spelling – sometimes idiosyncratic or obscure – will turn up any results (e.g. “Pen-tyrch” will work, but the normal spelling “Pentyrch” will draw a blank). Sometimes only the Welsh name / spelling is accepted, sometimes only the English: it seems rather random. This must be quite daunting for someone with little or no knowledge of Wales or the Welsh language looking for their Welsh ancestors. The search function also offers the option of searching by “township” – this might be the name of the hamlet or farm where the testator lived, if such specific detail is included in the will or bond – and this functionality is absolutely brilliant IF said township has a stable spelling OR you are good at guessing variants, but there is no soundex function on any of the search parameters. In some cases I have ended up calling up all the wills for a particular parish in order to be certain not to have missed anything due to a rogue spelling used in the will (in fairness to NLW, it is rarely a case of transcriber error in these cases).

At the risk of repeating myself, I’m certainly not out to diss any of the online resources available – each one has its strengths, as I’ve tried to make a point of showing here, and together they are continuing to revolutionize people’s access to family, local and social history, some of them at no cost to the end user. However, this recent experience of the sheer uncomplicated joy of dealing with more low-tech resources that are so reliable and effective has just reminded me that in so many areas, human skills and knowledge remain the key to handling all the “data” available out there, in whatever form it might exist.

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Week 7 – these boots were made for… decorating!

20130225-170015.jpg This year I received something absolutely fantastic in the post on Valentine’s Day – a brand spanking new pair of Doc Martens boots (model 1460 smooth milled black, for the attentive to detail). It must be almost fifteen years since I bought my last pair, and those served me well and longer than any pair I’d had previously, so much so that I felt almost like a fly-by-night ingrate for even thinking of replacing them. The process was further complicated by the fact that the exact model that had been so reliable was no longer produced, and I was reluctant to go for something that might be second best.

Ultimately the frustration of not having a wearable pair of Docs won out, and I set to work to find a pair that were most similar to what I’d had. And voila! I love the round toe, the slightly sleeker silhouette and the absence of such bright yellow stitching on these, compared to the absolutely classic model, and I really do think that the milled leather was the secret to the long life of my previous pair – the uppers never cracked, unlike almost ALL the Docs I’d had for any longer period previously.

And now to make them my own. In the past I had a striking pair of cherry-red square-toed DM shoes, which I loved, and a quite bizarre limited-edition pair of boots in beige(!) hessian(!!), which I dyed purple and loved almost as much, even though they spent most of their lifetime looking rather scruffy and being decidedly non-waterproof. I’ve seen people with beads or trinkets threaded onto the laces of their boots, and I decided to try something similar. On my way to the rather funky bead shop, I happened to go into a cheap accessory store that was having a sale on. I bought two cheap Christmas bracelets and decided to plunder them for sparkly stuff to thread onto the laces of my new boots, magpie that I am. You can see my “plunder stash” and the final result below (you can click on the picture of the boots to see a larger version). It may end up feeling a bit OTT – I’ll have to see, but for now I’m happy.


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Week 6 – the coffee machine I forgot

photo(4)I’ve been very tardy about writing this post as I just couldn’t think of anything creative or home-improvementy that had happened in my life during the week concerned. Which was a slightly depressing thought in itself…

But hah! At some point I remembered that this coffee machine arrived bright and early one morning while I was in the shower (typical!) – it’s virtually new but was surplus to the requirements of the people who bought it, and generously they asked if it might find a new home here.

I was sceptical at first as I’m not a big coffee drinker, and M is devoted to his “holy ritual” (as it appears to an onlooker) of grinding the beans and going through the whole (messy) rigmarole with his espresso pot. It’s no great secret that I find the coffee it produces too strong and bitter – and yes, lots of different beans have been tried, but no, I will not adulterate my coffee with milk or sugar – and I’d ended up more or less giving up drinking any as a result. On top of that, we were both rather doubtful that the capsule technology this new machine uses could be a match for actual coffee beans.

The long and the short of it, though, is that it’s been a welcome addition to the household. I’ve started drinking coffee in the mornings again, and the volume, strength and flavour of the cupful it produces suits me just fine – I enjoy drinking it. And even M has taken to using it of an evening for the odd espresso after dinner – it’s less labour-intensive and quicker than the empty-grind-fill-wait routine with his “proper” coffee pot.

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Week 5 – duvet day

20130202-155035.jpgTo start with an apology, this is a fairly rubbish picture and the lighting was pretty dodgy, but I wanted to offer a brief glimpse of the new bedclothes I ordered this week from Amazon, having looked for ages and not been able to find any I liked anywhere local. No doubt many will recoil at the bright colours, but hey, people should know my taste by now…

The pictures on the wall were all cut out of calendars of medieval and pre-Raphaelite art, and they’ve been hanging there for as long as I can remember. They’re beginning to look a bit dog-eared in places by now, but I’m pretty loth to replace them until and unless I can find something I like as much.

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Week 4 – chucking-out time

20130127-155858.jpgNow that feels better – I cleared out this pile from my clothes drawers and cupboards recently and did a general audit of the things left inside. These rejects have in the meantime been bagged up and removed from the flat via the bin, recycling, charity, and one or two specific things to friends. And I’m left with three sackfuls of space for other, more useful things – yay!

Recently I’ve been relying on a small selection of clothes – regularly exchanged and washed, might I add! – and it’s partly because I’d either forgotten what else I had or it was buried at the bottom of a full drawer or cupboard. I’ve now rediscovered some “fresh” things but have taken a critical look at the rest. There are only so many odd old bits of clothes that you can reasonably keep for cleaning / painting / in case of weight loss or weight gain / in the hope that you might actually like them some day…

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Week 3 – final edits and the aesthetics of space

You may remember that I posted last July about a writing project I’d decided to take on. Well, just six months on, week 3 of this year saw me doing the final edits on the print-ready PDF of the whole thing before it went to press a few days ago – yay! It’s hard to believe how fast it’s all gone, the sheer volume of work and effort that were involved, the amount I’ve learned and the new skills and responsibilities it’s brought. I can’t wait until it finally comes out – I think the publication date is in March (watch this space…).

Any writing project brings with it serious considerations about use of space. In the academic writing I did in the distant past, word counts and style sheets were the all-important units of measurement. Writing for the commercial educational sector brings further constraints, most significantly the need to plan content for each page of each chapter in detail before you’ve even started, and the need for your units to fit onto the page format of the final product. For the first publication of this kind I did, I didn’t really know in advance what kind of space per page was going to be available and this led to much agonizing cutting of material in the latter editing stages (and given that this then had a knock-on effect for the solutions section and the glossary, it was all the more of a headache as a result). For another project, where limited space was a major and deliberate feature, the template I was given to insert content into was so detailed that it more or less automatically generated a WYSIWYG final format and I could see immediately where I needed to economize. This latest project has been somewhere in between these two extremes. While the document template took into account page size/layout and roughly managed things like font size and spacing for the different types and functions of text on any given page, there was still a lot of guesswork regarding how much space various other essential non-textual elements might take up.

Most significantly, this publication was to have lots of full-colour pictures, ranging from thumbnails to double-page spreads, and these in fact accounted for many of these unknown quantities regarding space. The necessity for me to think of the illustration aspect at all times really added a further major layer of planning to the whole project and one that proved at least as complex as the generation of text “content” – and this, I think, was the biggest eye-opener of the whole experience. In many instances I could just indicate where I wanted a photo of what, and someone else would later have the task of sourcing suitable images, but I was also given a list of stock photo sites I could use to source particular images if I wished to do so. I think this combination of perceived freedoms gave me a bit too much ill-founded confidence at first: it was tempting to think the world was my oyster and that I would find a photo of anything I damn well wanted via the powerful search engines each stock photo provider offered, or that writing “please insert photo of x here” would be the end of the matter. Wrong. Big fat wrong.

It was only when I was part of the way through the project that I started actively trying to select my own choice of images for inclusion, having decided that since I do have ideas about what sorts of photos I like and what I don’t, I might as well exercise this choice. And it was at this point that my naivety became blatantly obvious – no, you cannot simply find a picture of this or that brand, this or that paid tourist attraction, or this or that celebrity on stock photo sites, or at least not for any kind of commercial use. This set me into a spiral of despair at first as it necessitated rethinking a number of activities I had planned to base around just these kinds of pictures. Ultimately, though, it led to me having simply to think rather more creatively about how to adapt to the constraints I’d discovered, and although the frustration at not finding a picture of this or that did continue to the end, I think it’s true to say that rather more good ideas were born of this restriction than were nipped in the bud by it. [Insert pithy quote about adversity and creativity here :)]

Needless to say, it was quite something to receive the “semi-final” PDF version of the final document, all typeset, in full colour and with all the photos, for detailed proofreading and final tweaks. What needed to be changed at this stage wasn’t generated so much by mistakes – almost all of these had been nit-pickingly spotted and eradicated earlier – or by the desire to reformulate something more impressively / simply / effectively, but rather by aesthetics and more immediate, measurable considerations of space and spacing. This sentence needed to be shortened so that it didn’t run on to a second line or have such an awkward line break, or that item should be deleted or moved so that there was enough space for the picture / map / diagram; here something needed to be moved up or across a bit, while there some colour-coded items needed to be swapped around so that the overall impression was better balanced visually. It was quite a different kind of scrutiny and editing dictated by often very different considerations from what would govern a purely text-based entity, but I have to say that I enjoyed this challenge a great deal.

So now my work is done, and I can breathe a big sigh of relief. Thanks to all those who suffered and stoically put up with my periodic moaning, groaning and gnashing of teeth during this whole project. You know who you are.

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