As some of you may know, I have been researching my family history now, on and off, for about a year. My aim initially was to go back as far as I could on both sides of my family and compile a huge representation of who I am. However, I soon realised following back both parents’ lines was impossible in one summer and on a low budget, so focussed on my mother’s side. Then I discovered that hardly anything was known about my maternal grandfather’s family because he died when my Mum was young, his sister died very young, and his parents died before anyone in the family was really interested in genealogy. So, I looked at my grandmother’s side of the family. Using genealogy sites where cheap and possible I went back to her great-grandparents, then hit a brick wall. The cost. In order to find out more I was going to have to start travelling and paying for information and copies of birth/marriage/death certificates. As a student, this wasn’t really possible and I didn’t want anyone to have to help me out. So I left it.
That was last summer. I went back to Uni having only a sheet of paper with names and a few dates. I wasn’t very satisfied. However, this summer I have been helping my Grandparents unpack from their moving house and we came across a folder of old photographs, which awoke my passion for the family once more. However, this time I had a different aim – to find out about the people themselves. I didn’t want just a name and a birth year, I wanted to know what they looked like, what type of person they were, where they lived and who they married. I wanted to feel like I knew them.
I am very lucky in that my Grandma can remember a lot about her family. She knew a lot of her great Aunts, and grandparents, and could tell me little stories about them 🙂 My Mum also knew a lot of them and was able to fill in her own stories and memories. Add this to the photos and I was building up a wonderful picture of some of my ancestors. Then we started finding belongings in all the boxes we were unpacking. Pictures, tools, stationery, even shawls and jewellery. History was coming alive for me for the first time.
My discoveries increase almost daily, but the most personal by far was an envelope containing the birth certificates of Grandma’s parents, their marriage certificate, and her Mother’s death certificate. There was also the description of her Aunt’s estate and her Father’s estate, and a large group of solicitor’s letters pertaining to the death of my Grandfather. My Mum never knew the full details….now she does. The certificates were what were really exciting though. It was the feeling of holding a piece of paper that was nearly 120 years old…it sent shivers down my spine! And the most important thing…it made them real. I felt closer to them…to have their births and marriage and death down on paper, it mapped out their life….with all the personal memories and details filling in the gaps. I can’t describe how that felt.
Out of all of them, I feel closest to my Great-Grandmother – Grandma’s Mother. Her name was Lilian Jane Mason, one of six children living in Wolverhampton. She was born in 1896. This picture is of her aged about 19 or 20…around the same age as me. I don’t know why I feel I know her…but every time she is mentioned there is a part of me that knows. Maybe it’s because Mum was close to her Grandma, maybe it’s because Grandma speaks so fondly of her Mother….maybe it’s because we have her hair! (I’m not kidding…we actually did find a long plait of chestnut brown hair that she had cut off in the 1920s :/) But, whatever the reason, her memory remains alive 🙂
‘We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies. ‘ ~Shirley Abbott