Down the Rabbit Hole
|My great grand mother, Zillah Matilda, and her mother Esther Matilda. (I think?!?)
My dad got into family history in the 1970's (when most other people were getting into hair bands), and by the time he passed away, he had followed his paternal line back to the 13th century. Genealogy was a true passion for my dad, and something that was a huge part of his life. So on the morning of the day he died, I sat by the side of his bed, held his hand in mine and promised him that his work would not go to waste.
It took me over a year to get to a point where I could look at it and not get overwhelmed. It was unfamiliar and tricky and there are just so many of these ancestors! But I found somewhere to start, got familiar with the tools and my disposal (mostly familysearch.org and ancestry.com) and very gingerly jumped in. And down the rabbit hole I went!
There was about a week or so where I couldn't put it down. I was late picking Espen up from school because I was so engrossed in my family in Victorian London that I lost track of time and place. As soon as the kids were in bed at night, I'd pull out the laptop and find myself trying to decipher immigration papers from the 1930s, or shouting at a mis-transcribed census from the 1880s ("Homsby? It clearly says HoRNsby!")
A great side effect of doing family history is the way it has brought me closer to my own family. When I was first starting on my dad's mother's line, I contacted my dad's cousins in England to ask if any of them had done any family history, and they put me in touch with a relative who emailed me copies of what he had. I also have hundreds of old photos that my dad has scanned that I have no clue who the people are, or where the pictures were taken or anything. But fortunately, that side of the family has a Facebook group where I have been posting those photos for my relatives to see. They've enjoyed seeing photos that have been more or less out of circulation for decades, and have been really great about telling who the people are. I've heard a lot of new stories about my family, and discovered things I really didn't know. And only today I was chatting with my mum, who is visiting her sister in England, and she ended up being able to just produce the names and dates for about six people that I needed!
The surprising this has been discovering that I actually love these people. Although I was born long after most of them had died, there is that unmistakable bond that comes from being family. I feel strangely attached to my great-great grandfather, and loved learning that he was an architect, so I was delighted to find him in a census as a young, single man, training as an architect. It broke my heart a little to see him listed on his brother's death certificate as being present when he died. That must have been hard. And my heart broke for my great-great grandmother, Esther Matilda, when I discovered that her husband had died, leaving her with six children to raise.
I've always known that my dad's family were from Valdres in Norway, and my mum's family were from Cornwall in England. They are both places I have spent a lot of time, and feel closely connected to. But now, from working on my grandmothers' lines, I am beginning to feel like I have a little bit of a home in the greater London area (Lambeth!) and in Lancashire in the north of England. I want to go to places like Blackpool and Manchester and Liverpool and see if they feel like they're part of me. Because they are! People who share my DNA have wandered around the streets of those cities for centuries before the 20th century hit and we all contracted wanderlust somehow. (Did I tell you that I'm the 3rd generation in my family to marry someone from a different country?)
Anyway, I have almost finished the first stage of my family history project, which is to go four generations back from myself with complete names and dates for my parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents. After that, I want to go back and add all of their children. After that, I think I am about halfway to adding a fifth generation. After that, I want to go anywhere I can go. And after that I'll be old and grey and ready to hand my records over to the next generation!
What do you think about family history? Have you tried it? Are you interested in where your family comes from at all, or is it all dusty old names and dates to you?