curiouswombat: (Reminiscing)
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posted by [personal profile] curiouswombat at 06:35pm on 17/11/2013 under ,
I have been deeply entrenched in social history over the past few days - primarily involving the periods of the two World Wars.
Since my last entry I have actually read the book of 'letters, diaries and memories of the Great War', that I wrote about, and I found it fascinating - and not just because one of my great uncles is in there!

The stories of the men in the trenches are fascinating and, as the author points out, these 'board school educated' young men wrote prose just as good as their upper class peers whose work is quoted in text books and histories so regularly.

But I found the stories of those who spent their war at sea - from the local fishermen who fell foul of U boats, to those who served in vessels in the Royal Navy, even more interesting as their tales are less well known. I had not realised that U boats were quite common in the Irish Sea in WW1 - much more than in WW2. And the author looks at the effect of this on everyday life; all coal, for example, was brought to the island by boat - and as colliers were being sunk, so less ship owners were willing to take on that task. Almost all the island's passenger vessels were requisitioned by the British Navy. Much of the island's income, in the 30 years before the outbreak of war, was from holiday makers; no-one is going to take a holiday where they run the risk of drowning en route by their ship being torpedoed... and so on.

So in some ways day to day life was hit harder here than in much of the British mainland.

I had not realised, before, the amount of hardship that was caused directly by the harsh attitude to change of the King's representative on the island. (We are not part of the UK - our legislature actually chose to pass a law in favour of conscription as the UK one did not apply here - but the British Monarch is Lord of Man, and at that time their representative could veto decisions made by the legislature. Which Lord Raglan did - when they voted in favour of introducing the old age pension, for example...) Lord Raglan refused to sign into law any sort of subsidy for those whose livelihoods were so badly affected, not even allowing the local authorities to reduce the 'rates' (local taxes based on building size) whilst the boarding houses sat empty.

Whereas many of the new factories that employed women on the mainland did so from a need for the products, on the island some industries, such as a glove making one and a sock knitting one, were actually set up specifically to prevent women becoming destitute as there was no work in the holiday trade, and the men were away on active service, earning so little that they could not provide for their families.

The island had a higher percentage of men of eligible age fighting, or at sea, than any UK county or city - and a similarly high percentage killed - and finally got rid of Lord Raglan just after the war. Never again was the Lord's representative able to wield such power, either.

But as well as reading This Terrible Ordeal, I have been doing a task for Church for which I happily volunteered.

Historically we have kept a Cradle Roll of the babies christened in church. Some time ago we decided to frame all the old ones, which are historic documents, separately, rather than them all being piled on top of each other in one frame. And I offered to copy over some of the faded names on the first one. But there were big problems - which I wrote about, with a couple of examples, here.

We then had more problems - not only did we have a lot of names that couldn't be read, and names stuck on top of other names, but it was actually very difficult to source new Cradle Rolls now, too! Then our Baptism Record book had been taken to Ramsey by our 'interim minister' and he kept forgetting to give it back - and so on.

But this week I got the new rolls, and the baptism book, where two other members of the congregation had spent an afternoon marking all the 'missing' children. And I filled in the last empty spaces on that old roll, and began to write new ones for those whose names had been obliterated on it.

I think I now understand what had been going on - the children whose names had been stuck on top of other names, three and four deep in places, were actually all baptised between 1939 and 1952. I think the person responsible may have either just been saving money or, even more likely, couldn't actually get a new blank roll...

The baptism record is, however, a fascinating piece of social history in itself...

The names of some of the children are interesting, and sometimes unexpected - for example there are 2 Pamelas, a Rhiannon, and a Betty-Mai on the first page, all baptised in the 1930s, whereas I would have expected such names to come later, perhaps - and the Betty-Mai looks very out-of-place! But then I realised her surname was Le Gear, and her father a radio operator in the merchant navy - so I think perhaps she had a Channel-islander father and a Manx mother. And hopefully she stayed here after her baptism... as she was baptised on our island on November 7th 1939.

The 'father's occupation' column on that first page has a wide variety of occupations listed - blacksmith, merchant mariner, insurance agent, farmer, motor driver, plumber, rate collector, four different boarding house keepers, and so on. The 'place of birth' was mainly a private address - but 'Jane Crookall Maternity Home' began to creep in during this period - by the end of 1939 about 1/3 of the babies had been born in what became know as 'The Jane'.

Then we turn the page. The occupation of the first father listed here fascinates me. He is John Burton MacArthur -'Fox Rancher'! I have read, once in a book by Mazo dela Roche, of a 'fox farmer' in Canada. But a fox rancher on the Isle of Man? Where we have no foxes... Actually the baby wasn't baptised until she was 6 months old, and her name was 'Sandra Georgie MacArthur' - although she was born 'in Douglas' I wonder if her mother came 'home' to family when pregnant from somewhere like Canada or the USA and the baby was only christened when the father either came over, too, or sent word that it would be safer not to cross the Atlantic at that time? (Manx women quite often headed home to give birth - my mother did, a few years later.)

And five names down, on May 19th 1940, we have our first father listed as 'On active Service'. Very quickly almost every father is listed in the same way - and those who aren't are often an 'engineer', 'fisherman', 'merchant navy', 'School-master RN', 'Naval chaplain', 'Principal lighthouse keeper'... And a couple of babies have 'deceased' in the father's occupation column.

By 1940 almost every baby's place of birth is 'The Jane', and there were clearly two smaller nursing homes for lying-in as well - the 'Dhoon Nursing Home' and 'Burleigh Bank, Cronkbourne Rd.' Almost no babies were born at home - only eleven out of 70 baptised during the war.

And then it occurred to the Session Clark to change the heading of the column to 'address of parents' instead - which is much more interesting.

As time goes on it is clear that the congregation of our church is not the upper echelons of society - there are many quayside workers, butchers, and lorry drivers - but only rarely, until the 1980s, do you see 'doctor of medicine', or 'accountant'. In fact I saw the baptism of one child of a local doctor in the late 1940s - but his brother and two sisters were clearly baptised elsewhere! Probably in the Parish Church.

All in all, I really have been steeped in social history over the past few days.

And I have promised D-d, who flies home for the weekend coming, that I will hang onto the Baptism Record until after she goes back as she, too, wants to spend time studying it.
Mood:: 'nerdy' nerdy
Music:: The Calling - Wherever You Will Go
There are 47 comments on this entry. (Reply.)
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posted by [identity profile] at 06:56pm on 17/11/2013
How fascinating - like a treasure hunt. Well done for finding out so much!
posted by [identity profile] at 07:39pm on 17/11/2013
I've had a really good time - my idea of a few days off well spent!
posted by [identity profile] at 07:53pm on 17/11/2013
Can I be an interfering archivist at you for a sec and suggest not framing up the original cradle roll, but photographs/digitised copies or a calligraphic copy? I think Manx National Heritage might be able to take it and ensure it survives - framed stuff in light constantly fades to nothing frighteningly fast, and the paper becomes more and more brittle too as it gets acidic. (That applies especially to cheap paper, which was often used during the war because pulp was scarce like everything else.) Of course if that's not your church's decision, fair enough - I can certainly understand why you'd want to keep originals. But they could be destroyed in the next century or so by keeping them like that, which might be something you all want to include in your planning.

Anyway, enough sticking my nose in - the island history is completely fascinating. That Raglan sounds diabolical, but the factories set up for women's support are a much more positive thing to learn about. Thanks for sharing!

posted by [identity profile] at 08:27pm on 17/11/2013
The oldest, cardboard, one is actually a mess. The Session Clerk in the 1930s stuck bits of paper all over lots of the original names, sometimes then writing another child's name on the bit of paper, occasionally not, and sometimes sticking them four deep.

The ink had already faded by the time we took it from the back of the frame and really looked at it. But the ink on the bits of glued on paper seemed to be more faded than on the few spaces he had left at the original level, so much so that I couldn't make some of them out at all. But I discovered that the, very faded, glued on ones would come off fairly well to reveal the original name underneath in slightly better condition - at which point I carefully copied over those ones in modern ink...

So that first roll that we have is a mixture of some of the original handwriting copied over, and some that I just wrote this week into the squares he had, for some reason, left blank altogether :(

However, the baptism book is actually a much better historic record as this is where the details about families, and dates of birth and baptism etc. are recorded. And this is kept closed in the safe in church most of the time, so is in much better condition.

Practically the cradle rolls are the public face of the proper documentation. That original roll didn't have any dates on it, either, so was really not a lot of use, except as a record of the Session Clerk's handwriting - and his parsimony in re-using spaces over and over!
posted by [identity profile] at 09:14pm on 17/11/2013
More interesting as an artefact than a record, I agree. Wonder why he stuck so many names over though. Or maybe everyone did, and it's us who don't understand...
posted by [identity profile] at 09:29pm on 17/11/2013
When we really looked at it, and realised there were all these odd bits of paper, I kept asking people if they could make head or tail of it - and no-one, even the oldest members of the congregation, could come up with any logical reason. I think fear of running out of space is as good as any, in the end.

But the baptism book is much more interesting. Especially the child who seems to have been baptised posthumously!
posted by [identity profile] at 08:14pm on 17/11/2013
That is really interesting, especially being able to trace demographics through parental addresses. Lovely stuff. Speaking of funny names... I've been doing something similar myself lately with a heap of documents from a hundred-year-old business that's been wound up (I am involved because (a) family connections (b) spare time) and have collected a Louanna Florence C., an Astrea Tuckett and the rather unfortunate Mr. Edmund Polluxfen Bastard from c. 1900--1920. There are also a lot of Henry Seaman C.s in the family tree - I eventually traced the middle name back to someone marrying an Elizabeth Seaman. I love strange names.
posted by [identity profile] at 08:36pm on 17/11/2013
Now those are truly wonderful names. Especially Edmund Polluxfen Bastard. You feel he should be a character in a book.

The other thing I noticed about addresses is that some of the houses now worth £500,000+, and out of the reach of working class people, were, when new in the 1920s-30s, often lived in by plumbers, joiners, or butchers. Then, by the 1980s the people in those jobs were living in smaller houses, social housing, or flats within some of those boarding houses that were now surplus to requirements.

I think the cost of housing in relationship to wages had changed greatly in 50-60 years.
posted by [identity profile] at 09:27pm on 17/11/2013
I can tell you that the estate was selling off houses in the £16--25,000 range back in the 1980s (often to the existing tenants), and has been offloading exactly the same sort of houses for, idk, £250,000 apiece in the last decade. Wistful sigh.
posted by [identity profile] at 09:42pm on 17/11/2013
That really is frustrating, isn't it?

We seemed to have had rising prices by the 80s - I think the influx of when-I's pushed the prices up in the 70s.

When-I's? 'When I lived in India...' 'When I lived in South Africa...' 'When I lived in Rhodesia...' They came over here and referred to us as 'the natives'!

We have been known to say that, coming home from the NE of England in the very late 80s, we bought the only house we could afford! It cost us 4 times what the one we sold in North Shields was worth, and is now valued at about 5 times what we paid for it.

I've just looked to see what the one in North Shields would cost now - and the answer is now about a 1/3 of what this one is worth.
posted by [identity profile] at 09:17pm on 17/11/2013
Of the Devonian Bastards?


Sorry, I can't resist that phrase. They are *so* distinguished in Devon. MPs and such from way back. I always wonder how those election campaigns went... I don't think 18th century elections were ever that polite, but that must have been a gift.

I'm being officiously archival today, so will point out you might think about depositing defunct business records with a local archive, if you're not already on the case. Happy to advise if needed!
posted by [identity profile] at 09:21pm on 17/11/2013
Lord, yes, they must be. I found him as an executor for Lord Rolle's estate down Exmouth way and went o_0. Most of the Estate (not Lord Rolle's) documents have already gone to the county archive; we kept family stuff back, mostly. I'm currently responsible for working out exactly what we do have. No one seems to be quite sure what's going to happen to them when the Estate is wound up good and proper, but I'm sure someone else will have some idea...
posted by [identity profile] at 09:32pm on 17/11/2013
I once had to do an immensely tedious piece of work for a supervisor, counting parliamentary votes cast over about a decade in the 1780s/90s. The then Mr Bastard slightly brightened the task. Only slightly, but it was welcome!
posted by [identity profile] at 09:37pm on 17/11/2013
I can imagine! I was skimming this document (it's c. 1900, I think) and thought at first this was a son of Lord Rolle, which would have made him the brother of Charles Rodolphus Trefusis, as if that wasn't bad enough, then realised it wasn't even a deniable middle name.
posted by [identity profile] at 08:23pm on 17/11/2013
That's fascinating. My mother got into genealogy in a big way a few years ago, so she's been digging through similar records for a long while and turning up some really fascinating stories. (And some really heartbreaking ones; she showed me a page from a parish register in the... 18th century, IIRC, where the priest had written down the names of about a dozen children who died in a very short time period. And the thing is, he'd written the names so very carefully, as if to make sure they'd be remembered, and next to each there was this furious, contemptuous scrawl that barely read "scarlet fever." And you picture this man who's lost half the children of his village to something they were absolutely powerless against, sitting down to write an official, objective record of it...

(And at least unusual names stand out. Digging through Swedish records gets old very fast; "Erik Andersson, son of Anders Eriksson, son of Erik Andersson, son of Anders Eriksson, son of...")
posted by [identity profile] at 08:57pm on 17/11/2013
The baptism book I have is only from 1935. But there are occasionally children who were clearly baptised as they were likely to die - date of birth and baptism being the same. And a number of them had been entered, correctly, in the records, but had 'deceased' and date of death written in the margin. The date of death usually being either the same one, or the next.

I realised that when the child's parents live in a different part of the island, and you would expect them to have been baptised in their home town or village, they were almost always this group - date of birth and date of baptism with no more than 24 hours between them.

I wondered whether they were all members of our church or the sister church in the north of the island - it seemed unlikely. Then it occurred to me that our Manse is very near 'the Jane'; our minister was probably the nearest non-conformist one and so might be called upon in an emergency for any non-conformist family.

There is one entry which is truly odd, as it seems to be against all usual church rules; there is a little girl, a 2 year old, whose father was a quayside worker. Written in tiny cramped writing under her entry it says 'child died as result of road accident and then christened'. They had her younger sibling christened within weeks of their birth, a few months later!

Personally I think the Swedish system has a lot going for it - but might make genealogy difficult to follow.
posted by [identity profile] at 10:01pm on 17/11/2013
Personally I think the Swedish system has a lot going for it - but might make genealogy difficult to follow.

Well, we dropped it over 100 years ago now, which is probably for the best; having a common surname makes a lot of things easier. But I like the idea of it. (And I love that the Icelanders have stuck with it, but there's so few of them, they can manage it...)
posted by [identity profile] at 10:25pm on 17/11/2013
The common surname doesn't always help - I got back to about 1680 tracing my grandfather's family through the church records which would show the names of parents on baptism certificates, and on marriage ones.

But as there were three or four families in a small area with the same surname, and they also used a small pool of Christian names, I eventually got stuck at two pairs who had married within the same year, and had the same names, and so it was impossible to tell which Charles and Mary Howland was the right pair to follow...
posted by [identity profile] at 09:20pm on 17/11/2013
Heh. That's my family tree too. Lars Svensson, Sven Larsson, Lars Svensson, Sven Larsson... repeat until insane. But much better records than in England, often - my dad is v envious of mum's family researchers.

That register entry, though... I love when people reach out across centuries that way, but that particular one is gut-wrenching.
posted by [identity profile] at 09:54pm on 17/11/2013
But much better records than in England, often - my dad is v envious of mum's family researchers.

How far back can you usually get in England? The Swedish records are usually pretty good if you manage to keep track of all the names (and place names, which are often only marginally less generic). Mum's managed to track us back to around 1600, and apparently that's pretty much as far as you get if you're not blueblood. Of course, most of the time all you get is DOB and DOD, but sometimes there are hints of a story in there...

The thing that surprises me is how much people moved around. You have this image of people spending their entire lives on the same farm, but no, a lot of them travelled quite a bit. Which of course makes tracking them even harder, since most of them were illiterate and the priest in the new parish didn't necessarily spell their home village correctly.
posted by [identity profile] at 10:04pm on 17/11/2013
In theory, should be possible to go back to 1530s, when parish registers begin, but they were kept by the priest so are very patchy in survival, especially around difficult times like the Commonwealth when priests changed quite a bit. We didn't have civil registration which everyone was caught by till the 1830s, when the census pretty much began too. So you can be lucky, and get people who didn't move much in places where the registers are good, or you can have family who were highly mobile Methodists or other nonconformists in the 18th century and lose the thread completely, or just be unlucky with parish records surviving and have nothing at all. If they were on a manorial estate, you can also do quite well even without registers, because tenancy often passed father to son or husband to wife, so you can see relationships and the records show when and why property passed - and manorial records survive quite well, being about money and kept by rich people who don't throw stuff away.

My dad's family is traced back to about 1780, and it has been difficult, even though it's a rare name, he's done quite a lot of good work on it, and they didn't move about too much - a few neighbouring parishes, rather than big journeys. That's not uncommon.
posted by [identity profile] at 09:03pm on 17/11/2013
So fascinating!

My father's mother moved from Leicester to give birth to my father on the Isle of Man in 1942, so all of this history really interests me. Dad is the only child of only children, so has no family left in the UK. Such hard times.

Once my dad, who didn't move to Canada until his 20s, attended some sort of church jumble sale in his youth and almost bought a cookbook about what to cook during wartime. Many decades later, he's still kicking himself for not picking it up, because it would've been an absolute treasure in terms of getting a sense of what life during wartime was like for those at home.
posted by [identity profile] at 09:22pm on 17/11/2013
How nice to see you!

If your dad's mother happened to be a Presbyterian then I will probably have the official record of his baptism right beside me at the moment... (Seriously - if this is a possibility, send me a PM and I will look for him in it.)

Life on-island wasn't quite as harsh during WW2 as it had been during WW1 - the Irish Sea was well patrolled and so the coal boats made it over. Food rationing was very much the same as in the UK, but there was a little more available as so many people had family connections to farms, and small amounts could be produced for family consumption as well as what went into the system for others to purchase with their ration cards.

posted by [identity profile] at 08:17pm on 18/11/2013
His mother was Anglican, otherwise I'd leap at your offer!

I'm glad to hear that island life wasn't too bad during WW2. Still, what should've been such a happy time in her life was marred by fears about her husband in active service and having no one familiar around for the birth.

I would've loved to have talked her about those times, but she died long before I was born. I did meet my dad's father, but I was pretty young so my memories are very vague. Mostly I recall that he was a bit crochety and liked the same corn chips as I did.

(Funny aside: When he went back home to the UK, he used to tell all and sundry that his son stuck him in the basement for his visit, failing to mention the "basement" was actually above ground with all the amenities plus a glorious view of the water and mountains. In other words, he made it seem like he'd been crammed into a dank cellar and Dad was pretty miffed when he got word about this!)
posted by [identity profile] at 10:00pm on 18/11/2013
When he went back home to the UK, he used to tell all and sundry that his son stuck him in the basement for his visit,

I tell everyone my new office is in the basement, too. Officially it is the lower ground floor as the building is on a steep slope - so I had to smile when I read that!
posted by [identity profile] at 09:12pm on 17/11/2013
All very fascinating!
posted by [identity profile] at 09:23pm on 17/11/2013
Thank you.
posted by [identity profile] at 10:08pm on 17/11/2013
That's all fascinating...a whole social history through baptism records. I've never seen anything quite like that but I have looked through old bibles where whole family history can be recorded for generations sometimes.
posted by [identity profile] at 10:31pm on 17/11/2013
The family bibles are really fascinating too. This was different as it showed a broad spread of people over about 75 years. It hadn't really occurred to me how interesting it would be until I started to read it, I was just expecting to copy names out of it.

posted by [identity profile] at 10:54pm on 17/11/2013
I see you have been having a fascinating time playing the historical detective.
posted by [identity profile] at 11:54pm on 17/11/2013
I have - it is something I really enjoy, so to me it has been a really good few days off work.
posted by [identity profile] at 10:56pm on 17/11/2013
That's all fascinating - both the baptismal records and the WW1 stuff. It would certainly not have occurred to me that the Isle of Man would have been much affected by WW1, which shows my ignorance!

Last Monday, we held our usual Act of Remembrance in the chapel at college. Our Chaplain talked about the little church in his village at home - which doesn't have a memorial board for WW2 (they do for WW1), because they were fortunate enough not to lose anyone in action. What they do have is a Roll of Honour, which records everyone from the village who contributed to the war effort - in any capacity. So not just those who served in the armed forces; but the land girls, the Bevin Boys, the Women's Royal Air Force, the WAAF, and so on. I thought that was rather wonderful, and it did make me reflect on the extent to which we tend to neglect to commemorate those other forms of service...
posted by [identity profile] at 12:04am on 18/11/2013
That is a rather wonderful thing to do.

I hadn't realised, thinking of the land girls, that there had been land girls in WW1 as well; but Manx girls would sooner go to work in the munitions factories on the mainland than get involved in ploughing or reaping. These were so traditionally 'men's work' that they were superstitious about it - and refused even if the farmers themselves, in desperation, asked them to!

It was actually accepted by the conscription appeals board here that 'he is the only one left who can plough' was a reason for allowing someone to stay on the land even if the family had three or four fit daughters.

As far as I can tell the young women of WW2 had no such qualms.

posted by (anonymous) at 12:02am on 18/11/2013
Oh, how fascinating. You can learn a lot from baptismal records. It does give you a glimpse into the past.

I would imagine your guy was either trying to save paper or just could not get a new roll, as some one mentioned good paper was hard to come by and I doubt it would have had priority!

posted by [identity profile] at 12:05am on 18/11/2013
I wish he'd just turned it over and written on the back of it!
posted by (anonymous) at 04:18am on 18/11/2013
True, but probably too easy!

posted by [identity profile] at 04:16am on 18/11/2013
That's totally fascinating (and a fun way to spend your time *g*)
posted by [identity profile] at 08:29am on 18/11/2013
It was a really fun way to spend my time, although, sadly, I have to go back to work today.
posted by [identity profile] at 05:56am on 18/11/2013
That sounds fascinating! I wouldn't have thought a cradle roll would tell you so much about the social fabric of your community, but that just shows what I know. What an interesting project!
posted by [identity profile] at 08:31am on 18/11/2013
To be honest it wasn't the cradle roll that told us much - it was the actual baptism record book which is a bit like the marriage register and has more than just the names. But even so, it was really interesting just how much you could glean from it.
posted by [identity profile] at 05:59am on 18/11/2013
posted by [identity profile] at 08:35am on 18/11/2013
Thank you - I'm really pleased that other people find it so, as well as me.
posted by [identity profile] at 08:31am on 18/11/2013
I find bits of local history fascinating.

In generations to come, I'm afraid they'll be baffled by my son's name on our church's cradle roll. I noticed they'd given him his cousin's first name as his middle one, and I believe they misspelled his first name. I was able to get the misspelling corrected, but, hard as I tried, I could never get his middle name corrected! I kept thinking it was fixed, but there was obviously one place that was never changed that would override the correction. Our descendants will have to wonder, because I finally gave up!

I have a similar mystery with my grandfather's name. It appears he was born Cornelius Arthur, but he was Chester Arthur by the time I knew him. The only thing I have been able to postulate is that he was named after a relative--an uncle--who was in the Civil War. Cornelius suffered a head wound, and it is said that he was never right afterward (he may have committed suicide, but I'm unsure about that). I wonder if that was the cause of the name change.
posted by [identity profile] at 07:46pm on 18/11/2013
I have a horrible admission to make - I managed to transpose the day and month in someone's date of birth on the cradle roll... and decided that it was unlikely that anyone would notice, so left it as a correction would have looked unsightly :(

I wonder if your grandfather just chose to be known by different name? Cornelius is a bit of a mouthful and he may have thought Chester sounded younger, for example.
posted by [identity profile] at 02:06am on 19/11/2013
Your transposition and my lack of persistence in correcting my son's name on the cradle roll will serve as mysteries for future genealogists!

Chester Arthur was our 21st president. Maybe my grandfather admired him and took his name. So many unanswered questions!
posted by [identity profile] at 03:38pm on 18/11/2013
This is absolutely wonderful. As I delve more and more into the history of the past century and a half in my own writing, I learn to appreciate records such as you are working with. I bless people like you who are making your heritage available for future historians, ans it's fascinating work also. You're so very lucky!

- Erulisse (one L)
posted by [identity profile] at 07:51pm on 18/11/2013
It is such an interesting record, that I am really enjoying doing it. I'm thinking that, somewhere, we must have an older baptism record...

Although, sadly, it is possible that they were sent to the Central records for the Region when complete - in which case ours would be in Liverpool. :(


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