Beth Lacey: Researching Lives – Writing Lives

Beth Lacey: Researching Lives

During Semester One I took part in the Writing Lives Module, which focuses on exploring working class peoples autobiographies. From the very beginning I knew I would enjoy the module, and I was excited to choose my author and start researching their life. After looking through the authors in the archive, I discovered Nora Isabel Adnams, and her memoir about her time in a Barnardo’s children’s home. This piece immediately connected with me, as both of my parents worked at Barnardo’s homes in the past, and I was interested to find out about the homes when they first started. When reading Nora’s writing for the first time, I knew there were would a lot of opportunities for research, as Nora mentions several events and places, as well as a meeting with Dr Barnardo himself.

In the second session we were introduced to the Writing Lives website, and set up our own academic twitters. To begin, the blogging process seemed quite daunting as there seemed to be a lot of steps involved in making sure you posted correctly – and didn’t end up on the homepage of the website! However, once I had posted a couple of blogs I came to understand the process, and it seemed very easy to use and was well explained. The academic twitter account has also been great to get involved in; it has been nice to share other people’s work and explore other working class projects through their twitter feeds.

When starting to write my blog posts I discovered several great resources on the web and through Helen’s recommendation. It was fascinating to research Barnardo’s history and place Nora’s memoir on the charity’s timeline. Nora also mentions a number of historic events, for example King Edward’s death, and I really enjoyed reading a personal account of a national occurence. I found texts specifically about Barnardo’s particularly useful to my blog posts, as Nora’s account did not really fit with the tradition working class upbringing – something which Nora herself often points out.

The actual writing of the blog posts was something I found challenging, as I have never written in this format before. However, once I had published one blog post and received some encouraging feedback, I felt confident about posting more. The thing I have found most challenging is keeping to the deadlines, as I tend to spend a lot of time researching and trying to perfect the piece. I have now published all of my of my posts, and intend to edit them before the final deadline – I think this is the true beauty of blogging, as you can continually improve your work whilst simultaneously sharing it with the public.

Another part of the module I have found particularly helpful is the editing group Jade, Amy and myself created in order to share our work. Their advice has been a great help, and I have also enjoyed editing their pieces and learning about Wally and Florence (their authors!). Not only have we given eachother pointers in writing, we’ve also been able to share information about the module.

Although Nora’s autobiography does not involve the war time years, I very much enjoyed the talk Lucie Matthew-Jones gave on the Cardiff settlement boys. Lucie really gave us an insight into the extent of researching, and her discovery of the letters sent by the settlement boys, and the way in which she pieced together the information was very exciting to learn about. My own personal research lead to an exciting discovery, as we found Nora in the 1911 census, which revealed some very interesting points. Not only did the census confirm that Nora returned to her family, it also revealed her father used to be a painter/decorator which explained why him breaking his wrist was such a disaster for the family.

Overall, the module has taught me several research skills. I have learnt the technical side of blogging, and how to use WordPress in general. I have also practiced the social side of blogging by using twitter to connect with other students and academics. In the coming weeks I look forward to continuing to add to my blog and to promote mine and other students’ on twitter. I also hope to contact Barnardo’s with my work, as I am very proud of Nora’s story, and think she deserves to have her story shared with others. This module has been thoroughly enjoyable, and I am so grateful to have discovered such an interesting piece of working class history.


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