Friday, 18 February 2011
Spiked perhaps by the TV program “Who do you think you are?” I’ve recently developed an interest in discovering my ancestors. This is because we migrated to Australia from England over four decades ago, and it will give my children and those who come after, a back-story of family history.
Seeking out deceased relatives hasn’t become an obsession with me yet, but the more I uncover the more my curiosity is piqued, and the more the feeling of kinship with those who have departed grows.
Nothing remarkable has turned up yet. Both sides of the family I’ve managed to unearth so far were housekeepers, domestic gardeners, cattle dealers, brick-makers, chauffeurs, laundry-maids, fishermen and mothers.
And goodness, were they mothers! These women did it tough, with five, nine or even a dozen kids being a fairly normal brood - and the offspring being thinned out by disease, just as normal. Life is short when measured in decades, and it makes me wonder what humanity is all about sometimes. But this is the stuff historical sagas are made of, especially those that cross generations.
I always knew my “down south” paternal grandfather was a chauffeur. I have photographs of him in his uniform at the wheel of a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. The copy of the County of London driving licence I have for him is dated 10th April 1911, and is valid for a year. However, by digging a little deeper I discovered he was a coachman before he drove a car, something I didn’t know. I’m in awe of anyone who can stay on a horse, let alone drive a team perhaps, and with a carriage attached.
My “up north” grandfather on the maternal side owned two fishing boats and he and his sons fished the North Sea. With a family of about eleven children to feed and clothe, life must have been extremely hard and dangerous. When I met him he also had an allotment.
Despite their humble occupations, there is pathos to be discovered . . . an uncle who died in the battle of Jutland at the tender age of 17. He was a boy seaman HMS Invincible his first ship. Imagine how excited and proud he must have been when he stepped on board for the first time. Then there are several infants in various churchyards who died of God knows what.
As for my other uncles, I found a little bald patch in the research for two of them. Then I remembered talk of Irish in the family. A bit of probing and I discovered they’d been born in Ireland, for I found them as infants on the Irish Census. And that was probably when grandfather used his coachman skills.
I’ve done my share of menial jobs like being a cleaning lady, a waitress, a shop assistant, wife, and mother to four – and at one time I followed a family trait of chauffeuring people around by being a taxi driver.
Now I’m an author . . . a saga writer, and that’s what I’d rather be remembered for – my creative input rather than my practical skills.
Snooping into the lives of the ancestors has given me lots of ideas for novels. I wonder . . . will a fall of the genetic dice produce a set of DNA similar enough to mine to create another author? Then again, there might already be one out there that I haven’t found. I guess I’ll just remain the odd one out on the family tree until I discover different.