Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Who Do You Think You Are?

We have a programme on the BBC called 'Who do you think you are?' in which various public figures look at where they came from and who their ancestors were. I love it because instead of being the history of the rich and royal, it is the history of everyone, of people in all their rich variety. Social history at it's most illuminating and I love the way it digs away at the reasons for things. Migrations, politics, crime, scandal, adventure, love... It's all been shown on this series at some time or another.

I have it series linked and am slowly watching and enjoying the current series...

One day in my teens I was digging through boxes at home when I came across a family tree of my fathers side. Having bought it to my parents attention, it was whisked from my hands with glee and my parents started to trace back even further. I look at this grand tree as it is now and it feels to me so one sided. All these women! Where did they come from? Who were they? Where did they go? Half of me comes from my mothers side but there always seems to be so much focus on the paternal side, why?

My paternal line extends back, from London most recently but my Great-grandfather migrated from the edge of the fens. My family extends back and back in this land. They moved from village to village with each marriage but they remained here for generations on the edge of the marshy wilderness that was eventually drained. They were poor: rat catchers, rag and bone men, labourers. Some were found in the poorhouses and others spent time in the clink.

What of all the women? My paternal grandmother? No idea. I believe her family came from Liverpool. My maternal side is a little different because it is my maternal grandfather who is the most miysterious. He was half Welsh and he and his brother spent time in a children's home whenever their parents couldn't afford to feed them. I suspect my Grandfather was abused in the home and that this affected him in many ways. He was a deeply creative person and even though he has been dead a long time, people still approached my Uncle with the family resemblance when he lived in the last town my Grandfather had lived in. He was fondly remembered by many and they bore testament to this. There are little sparks of controversy hinted at my Grandmother that make him even more intriguing to me and all the more sad for him. She certainly didn't feel the same way towards him as everyone else did as they eventually divorced.

My maternal line is one I know a little more about, up to a point. Long ago an ancestor left Scotland and married a farmers daughter in East Anglia. He had a good job and was obviously well educated but it is almost as if he didn't exist before the move. His line included an uncle that went to India with the East India Company (I have his battered trunk that accompanied him). There was a whole gaggle of spinster headmistresses (we have their letters to each other in which they discussed their gardens).

I wish I could know all these people better. Their blood flows through my veins. I am a result of the choices they made. I can never touch them or really know anything beyond a few bare facts about them. Some of their characteristics will have been lost over the years but some of them would have looked like me, would have had my personality traits, my skills. What an earth would they have made of me? of my life? of my choices?


  1. Family history is a marvelous thing. My mom is a geneaology nut and has traced us back on both sides as far back as the 1700's on some branches. It's amazing to find out where we came from.....if I ever get up the gumption - some ancestral 'workings' would be illuminative indeed!

  2. I suspect there are no families with nothing of interest in their past...