Some years ago, my cousin, who has a lot to answer for, introduced me to a new hobby; genealogy. Or to be more precise, the research of our family’s history. It’s a pastime that has consumed many of my waking hours and even occasionally intruded upon my dreams ever since.
Thanks to all the work that my cousin had done beforehand and the fact that Mum, who lived to the grand age of 96, had a vivid recollection of many of her grandmother’s 11 children, I was off to a flying start. After countless hours of poring over records, Googling till my fingers nearly fell off and gleaning what information I could from other family members, I now have over 5,000 people nestling in my family tree. Even allowing for a few miscalculations and errors in research, that’s a lot of relatives!
Of course we are not all linked by ties of blood but bound to one another, past and present, by marriage and circumstance; a conglomeration of nationalities, religions, cultures and financial conditions.
I’ve learnt a lot about our family roots and it has, at times, helped put things into perspective. When I’m in the mood to complain about my lot in life I reflect on the trials and tribulations that some of my ancestors endured and it makes me very grateful for what I have now.
Everyone has a tale to tell, but it wasn’t until I read an account of my 2nd great-grandmother who, in 1827, at the tender age of 10 was apprenticed in housewifery to a miller in her village and the death of a great-uncle who died when the ship in which he was serving, HMS Black Prince, was sunk at the Battle Of Jutland in 1916, that I realized just how many of our own family stories were out there waiting to be discovered.
Imagine how difficult it must have been to cope with twelve or thirteen children on a poor man’s wage in the 1800’s, without the benefit of today’s labor-saving appliances and those other modern conveniences that we enjoy today. Many of those women who bore children watched them die all too soon, some losing as many as four or five young ones in as many years. How heartbreaking it must have been and even harder to bear when their husbands died at a relatively early age due to the hazards of their respective trades and they were left to face the prospect of a bleak future in the poor house.
Along with the hardships there were personal triumphs such as that of my mother’s great-grandfather who, when he first went to work for the railway company as a guard at the age of 28, was unable to read or write, and who eventually rose to the position of railway inspector. Not an earth-shattering accomplishment in the grand scheme of things but to his loved ones it must have been an inspirational achievement.
My great grandmother left England in 1873, at the age of 16, with her husband and a son who was born earlier that year, for Canada. Bearing in mind the conditions for traveling by ship in those days, and not knowing what she would find when she got there, it fills me with admiration for the courage it must have taken for that young girl to make such a voyage. ( It should be said that whatever future they were seeking was not to be found in Canada for they returned to London a few years later.)
All this research has not only put me in touch with the past but has also, thanks to the Ancestry website, re-united me with, or introduced me to, cousins of whom I was either vaguely aware but had never met or had only come across once or twice during my early childhood. I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to finally be able to get together with these folks, if only by email, and talk about the memories we share of those loved ones now departed.
I don’t know if my grandchildren will ever share my interest in our family’s past. I hope so, since part of my legacy to them will be the mountain of paperwork; documents, certificates and photographs that I’ve accumulated over the years. I’d like to think that future generations will at least take a look at these mementoes of the past and then perhaps add their own reminiscences thereby doing their part to keep the story of our family tree alive and growing.