Every blog has to start somewhere and so today I thought it was apt to start this journey on a day where I am celebrating the birth of my only son. Birthdays bring memories and my memories are all caught up with family and this birthday marked the true beginning of my journey into family history research.
(Baby Scan – 17th Jan 1995)
On a day much hotter than today 21 years ago, my boy entered this world looking like he had been on holiday somewhere hot as he had pinched all my iron and had a golden tan already. He was perfection and a ray of light at a time that was one of the darkest periods in my life. When he was born I was already separated from his dad and divorce followed not long after his birth. It was a difficult time. He had an older sister and we were now on our own and I wasn’t sure I could do this parenting thing on my own. Twenty-one years is perfect hindsight because I now see that I could but back then in the moment, my world was a very scary place to be.
As the divorce approached, my overriding feeling was that I knew next to nothing about my ex’s family beyond the details of his own immediate family. My boy’s father moved back south nearer to his family upon our divorce and I had a sense that we were going to have very little contact from him from thereon in. One day, my children would ask me questions about their father and would have a natural curiosity about where they came from and their family history. I could tell them so much about my side – family has always been important to me and I had been raised with stories about my parents and grandparents and was proud of that heritage and felt a great sadness that I couldn’t share the same with them about their father’s story. I felt like they couldn’t be whole without this information – everybody needs to know their roots, right? It’s part of a person’s identity and helps us to understand ourselves a little better. I needed to address this – I felt it was the most important thing I could do for my children at that time. Never had anything struck me so powerfully as this desire to find out and discover – not for my sake but for my children. My mother was the family historian before me – they say there’s at least one in every family and mine has it’s lion’s share of them. I used to go with my mother on research trips to the library when I was younger and watch her crank the handle on the microfilm readers endlessly to find a small detail in our family tree and remember her thrill and excitement when she was successful in finding the desired piece of information. She would speak of it as being like having a “bug”. It was infectious and once you had the “bug” it would make you return again and again to find out more and more. I never got it back then but I do now! I absolutely understand it now and I definitely have the “bug”!
With a powerful desire to know my children’s family history, I approached the only member of my ex-husband’s family I still had any contact with and felt comfortable enough to talk to – my children’s Grandfather. We were only in contact through post and so I wrote him a letter telling him about what I wanted to do and asking if he could help me by telling me what he knew to begin with. I even made up a basic family questionnaire asking him about the vital details of his family such as dates of birth, death and marriage and I sent it not really knowing if I would even get a response but I was hopeful! He did respond and I remember my emotions as I opened his letter. He was sketchy and apologetic for being so . He knew very little himself and gave me some dates or approximations of dates and told me what little he knew. He had never known his biological father himself and so knew nothing of his father except a name and year of birth but was able to tell me a little bit more of his mother’s family but nothing beyond that. He was encouraging about my endeavour hoping I could find out more but felt disappointed that he hadn’t been able to help me. I still have that letter in my possession and I treasure it! That letter was a key and opened up a doorway into a world of discovery for me. I don’t think he even now realises how important the little detail he shared with me was. I couldn’t possibly have hoped to find anything out without it. I am thankful every day to him for his kindness in sharing what he knew and I hope that someday my children understand and appreciate him for it too! I wept tears of joy that day because I now had a possibility of discovering something that was lost to me and so today on my son’s 21st birthday, I say talk to your family – get the information before they are gone and it is too late! Record the smaller seemingly insignificant details of your life and your family’s lives – you have a family historian in your family waiting to discover them. Every detail is important – every detail is a clue and you cannot begin to comprehend the colourful, rich, inspirational story that can come from the smallest detail! Twenty-one years down the line and I am still making discoveries and I now have a “bug” from which there is no cure and no cure is desired!