Monday, 23 December 2013

Who do I think I am?

A family history group I've had on-off but very loose connections with for a few years asked me a while ago to contribute something to a 'what genealogy means to me' collection they are compiling. Their intention is to attract new people to genealogy and they have a clear idea of what they want. Their not-open-to-negotiation 'house-style' - too flowery for my taste - imposed a constraint on how I could approach the topic but I thought it would be an interesting challenge to see what I could do when I have to wander outside of my stylistic comfort zone. Here's the text of what I'm going to submit but it does need a few more illustrations to finish it off. When will it be published? Sometime next year apparently, assuming they get enough material to fill out whatever format they'll be going with. No fee, just the glory of getting my name in print (and, call me immodest, I do enjoy seeing that).

According to one dictionary I've got genealogy is defined as: 
*  A record or account of the descent of a family, group or person from an ancestor or ancestors; a family tree.
*  Direct descent from a progenitor; lineage or pedigree.
*  The study or investigation of ancestry and family histories

And the motives of those indulging in genealogy are:

"The desire to carve out a place for one's family in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling".

I'd never describe myself as a genealogist but I can identify with some, but not all, of the above. I 'do' some family history research and have done for about 15 years now. To me, however, genealogy is a whole lot more than those first three dry sentences might suggest.
*  It is finding my roots, my family, and my home.
*  It is seeing my great great grandparents as a young couple in a census record with their three young children; children who I know will be in the Chippenham Workhouse within the year.
*  It is seeing my grand mother as a one-month-old child.
*  It is seeing my grandfather's signature on WW1 records and knowing that he and others like him must have gone through hell.
*  It is even finding the "skeletons in the closets" or the "black sheep" of the family.
*  It is tracking how my family moved around the country seeking employment, a trait I've continued.
*  It is finding that members of my family went through some terrible times, but also knowing that they survived.
*  It is seeing in my mind's eye the careworn faces of all of those who have gone before me and imagining what they were like as individuals.
*  It is trying, but failing, to identify people and events that may have shaped my personality.
*  It is listening to stories told by my older relatives and passing those precious memories down to future generations.
*  It is finding cousins and other family members I never knew existed until recently.
*  It is the realisation of how important family is.
*  It is the realisation of how important it is to remember those ancestors who came before us.
Great grandfather Caleb Boniface
in the Royal Navy on the Royal Yacht
Albert and Victoria II
But most of all, it is the sharing of information with others who like me relish the research.
*  It is not just dusty records or words.
*  It is not only sharing the excitement of finding a new ancestor, but also sharing the frustrations of not being able to find what you are looking for.
*  It is the bouncing of ideas back and forth, of theories of "what might be" and commiserating with another when that theory falls through, which it often does.
*  It is being able to say "Look! Look what I have found!" and knowing that your excitement will be shared and understood.
*  It is being able ask a question on a mailing list, knowing that what you are asking may be "dumb" but knowing that you will not be treated with disrespect.
*  It is the people who give of their time and their energies to help you.
*  It is the people who volunteer their time and energies to do lookups on the various county web pages.
*  It is the people who volunteer their time and energies for the various historical societies.
*  It is the people who give of their time to transcribe old documents and microfilm, and who share that knowledge, whether it is through books sold by historical societies or on web pages.
*  It is the people who go through old cemeteries and take the time to write down those who are buried there and share that knowledge gladly.
*  It is the people who share old photographs, old letters and their old family stories, not expecting anything back other than a thank you and the knowledge that they have helped another in their family quest.
*  It is the people who go above and beyond what is asked of them because they love genealogy. They love the fun of it, the frustrations of it and the excitement of it.
*  It is also the knowledge that you are passing down something of worth;
that you are leaving behind a little something of yourself.
*  It is the knowledge that through all of your research you may have made a difference, however small it may be.
This is a just a little of what genealogy means to me. Why not give it a try?
My oldest authenticated photograph -
great great great grandfather
Steven Moon Newman -
dated September 1868

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