The answer to the question ‘How did I start my family tree?’ is one I can’t muster. It was a very long time ago (over 30 years) and I have taken a lot of drugs since then.
There must have been some inspiration, perhaps from spending my Saturdays working in a library, seeing family history books on the trolleys, speaking to borrowers with their genealogy conundrums.
All I remember is going to speak to my dad’s sister-in-law Ada who knew more about his family than he did. She was the knowledge, the hoarder, the one with all the certificates I could photocopy and not have to pay a penny for. Yes photocopy, one couldn’t get out a smart phone and just take a quick snap. I had to borrow the certificates, take them down the library to photocopy, then bring them back to my aunt. The same with photos. It was a transaction of trust.
At that stage I knew very little about genealogy, but I did realise that by already having certificates going back to 1856, if this were a race, I’d have a 30 second start over my competitors. I got lucky.
The question is though: why did I proceed? Why didn’t I ignore the books on the trolley or the borrowers with their family history puzzles? The answer might be that at the age of 16 I was extremely well-read (I wish I could say the same now!) having access to poetry, history, philosophy, physics, crime and religious books and that combined with my own personal situation: a break-down and the development of a chronic illness, led me to start wondering about origins and how I came to be where I was in the place I was.
Really Useful Podcast
At the time ‘origins’ became the central theme of everything I did from art to reading to recreation. It is still with me.
Just recently, I participated in the Really Useful Occupations podcast for the Family History Federation and I touched upon this. That to explore ‘origins’ we need to examine internal and external forces on the choices made and the choices made for our ancestors.
We are all born into the ‘system’ and therefore unless we can somehow find a way to be completely self-sufficient, we are beholden to the ‘system’ and the provisions available to us, be it the quality of education, the availability of care, or the choice of jobs in the market driven by progress and central government policy. As we pay into the ‘system’ both literally and metaphorically, the ‘system’ pays back, but it does not always pay back equally, fairly or with the bountiful good will of Fortuna!
After having spent years working on my family, working on the families of others, I feel I might be now in a position to finally reflect on this theme in a more focused manner. Alas chronic illness means I can only commit to a few hours a day for all my ambitions, so it might be a while yet.
The ‘origins’ theme motivated my research entirely for years and I had no inkling to care about who my ancestors were as people or even how far back I could go. As far as I was concerned the further back one went, the least influence it had on present generational shaping. It could be argued that it is a graduated process though and an argument I am happy to concede, however the documentary record is weaker and therefore the examination of influences is less effective the further back we go.
As to who they were, that did change because I soon realised we couldn’t discover how and why things happened without looking at them as individuals, as family units, and as a set of interactions with officials, acquaintances and extended family. For me this was far more than FAN research.
I wanted to examine a subject or a person who I could put at centre of my research and not only explore the sphere of influence, but the ripples of interaction with others. Ripples that spread out and came back to the originator. Hence the reason for this site.
It is not a straightforward family history blog – it is an exploration of the other person and the individual next to them. A story of six degrees of separation and how that 6th person away from our ancestor may have an direct or indirect influence on their lives and that of their descendants.
But what is equally important is how our ancestor is that 6th person to someone else and through good or bad actions, they may have shaped their family arc for generations. That gives some pause for thought and constantly engages me.
In truth there are times I am close to abandoning it all and walking away. I am easily disillusioned, mostly with myself than other people. It’s all I have and perhaps I should move on and find something else, but it is also a reason to stay.