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The Members' Stories session of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society North Northumberland Group, at Bell View, Belford, on January 20, took as its theme Tiny Tots.
Each of us brought along a photograph of ourselves as a baby or young child. These were displayed and we tried to put names to faces. It proved more difficult than we imagined, although some were easier than others to identify.
Stories and anecdotes about babies, names and baptisms were contributed by members, as were memories of customs that seem to have died out.
The tradition of ‘christening pieces’, or ‘ammas’, was explained. There were many variations, but it involved the christening party giving a gift of bread, cheese and spice-cake to the first person of the opposite gender who was met by the party either on their way to or from church.
It seems to have been a Northern and Scottish custom. One member remembered receiving such a gift as a young child in Morpeth. Silver coins continue to be given to new babies.
The dead child of a second marriage was in one case buried with the first wife so that it did not lie alone.
Prams were not usually bought until after the birth, and many people continue to observe this.
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The Belford Burial Register records the burial of a child ‘Anonymous Johnson’, aged one, who had never been baptised.
Our earliest memories were discussed, with one member recalling lying in her pram and gazing at the design of it.
Women dying in childbirth were not unusual in the past and one can understand the practical reasoning behind the baptism of a surviving child at the funeral of the deceased mother. A couple of such instances have been found within the ancestry of one member.
However, perhaps there is another reason for this practice. A book of folklore states that it was done as an assurance that whatever was good in the deceased person was transferred to the child and that this was most likely to enter the child during baptism. This belief was recorded by the minister of a Northern colliery village in the 19th century.
It was common in villages for the midwife to also have the role of laying out deceased persons before burial.
Our next meeting will be on Saturday, February 17, at 10am, when Chris Hunwick, archivist at Alnwick Castle, will tell us about the range of documents held there. Everyone welcome.