01 February, 2011

Where did I come from?

I’ve always been mildly interested in genealogy.  Growing up I knew that I had Welsh, Scottish and Irish ancestry, with a bit of Prussian and French thrown in as well.  I’ve shown interest when cousins or others have put together family trees, especially when it involved discovering towns back in the old country where my ancestors came from, all those years ago.  But I've never researched genealogy myself, always thinking it could be something I could do in my retirement, as I've watched my father-in-law do.

And then we learned with finality that we would never have children of our own.  It became starkly obvious, as my father-in-law developed the family tree in more and more detail, that we were the branch that went nowhere, that we had little or no significance on my husband's family tree.  Any discussions about it were painful.  As it became more and more detailed  - showing additions of the latest generation, of cousin's children's children - we felt left behind and even more insignificant.  The actual illustration of the tree showed in graphic terms our branch that was going nowhere.  We could be erased from the tree and it would make no difference.  Of course my father-in-law is oblivious, and thinks we are fascinated to learn about all these new additions to the family.  He enjoys looking forward, thinking about the new branches on those trees, the people coming behind him.  Those with children (and grandchildren) have no idea of the pain that a family tree with a stunted branch - our branch - can give those of us who are childless not by choice.

When my father died, some of the knowledge of my own family went with him.  Since then, his sister (the repository of much extended family information) has also died, and now my mother's memory is failing, and I know there will be things about my family that I will never know.   The words "too late" now have real meaning, and I find that very sad.  But then I become quite callous.  I remember my father, and the stories he told me, and the way he told them.  These are what is important.  Does it matter that I don't know much more?  After all, I have no-one to pass on these stories to.  Perhaps I can just wash my hands of all this?  

(And to be honest - and potentially controversial I know - I always find family trees slightly replusive for the fact that at the top, there are always just two people, but dozens fill the bottom of the tree.)
Then last year, my husband and I were considering a visit to Ireland or Scotland.  My enthusiasm for genealogy was briefly rekindled (until the trip was cancelled).  I wanted to know more, so that we could visit with a little knowledge, a little awareness of where I came from, so that we could visit places with relevance to my history.  Thinking about where I come from, where my parents' parents' grandparents came from, fascinates me.   As a keen traveller, I have often reflected on the bravery of my ancestors, setting out to a country as far away from them as anywhere on Earth, saying goodbye to family and friends forever, to establish a new life in an unknown environment.  I'd like to see where they started their journeys.  So I've decided to contact a cousin who is researching my mother's side of the family.  (Ironically, she is also childless).  I know that as long as I can look back, and not forward, I can handle genealogy.  Just don't ask me to keep an up-to-date family tree.


  1. I'm very much into genealogy. And it's funny how often the keepers of the family tree turn out to be childless women. It does hurt to realize that my little branch will never grow beyond what it is now. At the same time, though, getting to know more about my extended family, I've come to realize that I'm not the only childless one out there, & that's comforting. And if I can't contribute to the future of my clan, I figure I can contribute by giving the next generation a better knowledge of the people who came before them.

    Enjoy your trip!!

  2. I totally know what you mean about the family tree thing. My Mum, for a "surprise" last week sent me a print out of some family history stuff she'd written out for my 6 and 8 year old niece and nephew. All the hormones I've been on didn't help, but I was so upset! I know she wouldn't have meant to hurt me but I also thought it was a really stupid thing to send someone in the middle of an IVF treatment. Then she kept asking me if I'd read it when I went down to see her.Arrrgh!

    Having said that, I find I'm more interested in ancient rellies who didn't go on to have kids than the ones who have loads of great great grandkids. I sometimes think their stories might be more interesting but also overlooked.