April 23rd, 2012

Enjoying England’s Enchanting Elephants

I recently had the pleasure of visiting with some of my relatives in Bolton, England. The weather was a bit gloomy as the English weather can sometimes be, but Bolton is a city rich in history, and with a formidable industrial past, that couldn’t help but warm my heart. It’s a blue-collar city, and the inhabitants reflect that hearty down to earth character that makes it a pleasure to tuck unto a rich beef stew or share a few glasses, well pints (excuse my French), of ale with them. And that I did – more ale than stew I have to say. Now after admitting my fondness for the English brew, I feel I may have some trouble convincing you of the worthiness of my next observation. I won’t beat around the bush, I’ll come right out and say it – I saw elephants everywhere I went!

Now before you dismiss me as a flake or assume that perhaps my fondness for ale went a little too far, know this one thing – they weren’t real elephants!  No, I’m not saying that I realize they were imaginary, there are indeed elephants all over Bolton, I did really see them – on buildings, company logos, park benches, and on the Bolton Coat of Arms! Yes it appears the elephant is a popular heraldic mascot for the city whose residents and football team are nicknamed “Trotters” due to their historical affinity for boiled sheep’s feet. The elephant actually represents Bolton’s ancient connection with the county of Coventry, whose Coat of Arms also sports an elephant. But what does the elephant represent you may ask, as I did to, so I went about finding out.

According to the site HeraldryandCrests.com, an elephant represents great stature and strength in conjunction with wisdom, courage and longevity, with a little happiness, royalty, good luck, and ambition thrown in. Those qualities are indeed reflected in the people of Bolton, and I began to appreciate its choice of symbol. The website the Irish Jeweler added “wit” to the mix (again quite fitting), while the Scottish Wedding Dreams website in their section on Heraldic Animals threw in a bit of patience and dignity. Yes, that about sums up the personality of the people of Bolton, and yes, I’m hamming it up to my cousins – I would like to venture there again don’t you know!

If you have managed to stay with me thus far in spite of my apparent delusions in the beginning of this blog, you might want to know that Bolton is as rich in genealogical resources as it is in character. The Bolton History Centre offers a vast array of resources for family historians, including workshops and seminars, and of course I couldn’t help but drop in. The local archivist Caroline Furey and the local studies librarian Julie Lamara were very welcoming, as is the entire staff of the centre. They are definitely dedicated to assisting visitors in getting the most out of their visit, and are happy to carry put research on your behalf. The only disappointment I had was that I wasn’t offered a spot of tea. Thought I was going to say glass of ale didn’t you!

Most of the holdings of the history centre are locally focused, but they also maintain a collection of national records such as census returns, copies of the GRO Index and the National Probate Index. In addition there are original archives on everything form estate records to trade union records, while the centre’s staff has created an impressive surname index combined with biographical clippings and obituaries. The archive also holds burgess rolls, apprenticeship indentures, police records, title deeds, and church registers – both Roman Catholic and Church of England. If you’re interested in learning more about Bolton and the historical records you might find there, you can visit their website, which is managed by the Bolton Museum and Archive Service.

If you have Bolton ancestors as I have, you should surely pay it a visit, after all it was recently voted Britain’s friendliest town, and no not by me and my elephants, in a survey taken by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, so there!