Just recently, I’ve begun researching my family history again after a break of about 20 years. Times have moved on rapidly as I no longer have to trundle up to London to spend hours pouring over dusty index books. With free access to Ancestry and Find My Past websites from my local library, I just have to walk around the block to get access to information that would have taken me years to find without the internet.
This resurgence happened because I’ve been intrigued by a great, great grandmother’s unusual first name since I first uncovered it and now I want to adopt it as a Craft name. I thought it best to do a little more research so I could link with her energy to make sure she was okay with a descendent borrowing her name.
Anyhoo, that little project then spawned into another project I have wanted to start for some time: tracing my maternal lineage.
Trying to trace your family from mother to mother is hard. In fact, I have hit a brick wall with my great grandmother. I can’t find a birth or death for her online so that means I will be heading off to Chichester to reacquaint myself with index books and microfiche.
What I have uncovered is family I never knew existed. Of course, that’s the point of genealogy but I’m only going back a couple of generations. My grandmother had siblings I wasn’t aware of – I believed she had two sisters but I’ve found she was the youngest of seven.
I pulled up the census record for 1911 and there was a complete family with the eldest sister nearly out of her teens and my grandmother barely one year old. Curiosity called me to investigate further. The older sister spent several stints at His Majesty’s Pleasure in Portsmouth and Liverpool for larceny and both brothers died in their early twenties fighting in the First World War. I have no idea yet what happened to the other ‘missing’ sister.
On the eve of WWII in 1939, there was a census in the UK. From this record, I’ve located my grandmother who was living with her first husband and two children. By the end of the war, she had buried her baby girl, fifteen year old son and husband. I never knew about her first marriage or deceased children until after my grandmother’s death.
It made me sad to see these census snapshots of families together and then torn apart. I can only imagine my grandmothers’ grief at having to bury their children. Life is all too precious and too short.
I’ve also discovered children out of wedlock and hastily arranged marriages.
These things we don’t talk about – the skeletons in the cupboard – closet us away from people.
The hard times, the errant paths we take, the relationships that crumble, the circumstances that bring us to our knees – these all are part of our stories. And rather than hide them away, perhaps we should talk about them without shame or fear or judgement.
Life is a beautiful mess and we’re all entangled in it. The threads we weave are frayed, dirty in places, but they come together to make a rich tapestry. We can try to keep our lives ‘respectable’ or ‘acceptable’ but all that does is keep us dull.
When you’re trying to reconnect to the past and all you have are official records, you’re mostly only going to find big life events. I wish I’d known more of my grandmother. At her funeral, the saddest part was the vicar, whom she had never met, summing up my grandmother’s life as ‘she loved bingo’. There was more to her than that but she never told her story. I never had a chance to love the skeletons in her cupboard.