A couple of weeks ago I received an email, telling me that my remaining credits at the 1911 UK Census site were about to expire and would be deleted if un-used. Anyone who has done family history research knows that it is a long, slow process, so I was a bit miffed to be pushed into a corner, feeling that I should use them up on family strands that weren’t necessarily relevant to me at this point in time. Well, being the penny-pinching cheap skate that I am, I decided it was better to gain the benefit of peripheral research, rather than leave the credits to be absorbed into The Borg.
My family, like everyone else’s has its fair share of Marys and James and Johns and my mother’s maiden name wasn’t anything unusual in Britain like Vandesyphen, Xanthios or Zulenbaum, so I found myself wading through many, many Marys, James and Johns, most of which came to nought (in other words, effectively wasted credits). In frustration, and after what felt like an age, I found myself saying out loud to those who had gone before me:
‘Oh how I wish you were here and could help me!’
Well you know what? Blow me down - at the end of the day I checked my emails and there was a contact from someone who had chanced across a website of mine that I use more or less as a placeholder nowadays, but where, ages ago, I had posted a request for missing family members to contact me.
Cue … David. David is the direct descendant of my one of my great-grandfather’s younger brothers and as such has access to so much new, interesting and invaluable information that has been passed down through his family. The past week of back and forth correspondence has produced so many new strands of information that I’ve been both elated by the phenomenal musical talents of my great-grandfather and possible family connections (lots to research here) and, at times, melancholic, to the point of tears, when I consider the family struggle and sadness that surrounded my grandmother and my own mother’s childhood. I realise, even more than ever before, that my Mum was the sum of those parts. I am the resulting offspring - warts ‘n all – and will, despite all best efforts, have undoubtedly passed on some ’baggage’ to my own children. Oh how those bony fingers of guilt, shame and remorse reach through the years to play with our hearts and minds.
I want to tell you it all but hearing family history is, I fear, a bit like being pinned for an evening in a cold, snackless living room for a special slide show of Great Aunt Fi’s fabulous once-in-a-lifetime trip to Lourdes. (Maybe great – but you really had to be there to appreciate it). Perhaps I’ll relay the whole story some time – in small, manageable bites.
Several thoughts have occurred to me in the past few days however:
- I spoke to my family who had gone long before me and it seems as though my family answered. I find the timing of David’s contact quite extraordinary and whether or not that was connected to my general plea? Who knows? It is quite a coincidence however, isn’t it? Sometimes when I think about my family who have already passed on, I really feel them close to me and I’ve been totally immersed in thoughts of family for days now. I think (I hope) that you know what I’m saying here…
- I’m reminded that we are all the product of our childhood, the influences around us, the love and care we receive and family who surround us and even the time frame and therefore social mores of our early years. When another person acts like a complete twerp, especially a family member who apparently should know better, it would be grand if I could take a moment to consider the above before possibly becoming judgemental and critical.
- I am very lucky to have been born in this space in time. I don’t know about you but in recent years I’ve sometimes despaired at changing aspects of modern life. Yet there is so much that I can and should be thankful for, not least of which are the freedoms we enjoy, the tolerance of others’ beliefs and the great advances in medical science. In my genealogy research I’ve come across some heartrending stories of lives lost, lives broken and tragic accidents that probably wouldn’t happen today.
- I must try not to make pronouncements, set in tablets of stone. It seems to me that life is all about learning, growing and changing – from the day we are born to the day we die. After this latest session of family research, I began to reconsider a major decision I made last year (to do with a family rift) and realised that I was completely wrong because I based it in something that happened years ago, when I was badly hurt. The truth is that I’ve moved on, yet I allowed my initial response, all those years ago, to colour how I react now. I had it within my grasp to start to make things better …and I didn’t.
I think there is so much truth in the idea that we need to understand the past in order to help us move forward in a happier and more enlightened way. It probably partly explains why I find building my family tree so completely absorbing.
(The graphic above is my own. If you’d like to use it, please ask first)