Miss Dee recently spent a weekend with her grandma. If you are wondering what a thirteen year old and a seventy year old could do for a whole weekend, I can tell you: researching the family tree. Luckily for Miss Dee, the task was made easier because a cousin of grandma’s had spent five years doing research already. Grandma being the “keep it because you never know when you are going to need it” kind of person, had kept every single note.
They pored over family names, birth dates and places. Grandma had to confess that she had lost touch with quite a few people and she knew little about some of them, particularly the younger ones.
Miss Dee is terribly excited about her findings and as I write, she is feverishly looking up some of the names online (whatever did we do before the internet?). Every now and then she calls out: “Such and such went to live in Ireland” and “William was the only person whose children had children.” So far she has traced it back to 1827.
I have to admit I am puzzled by her interest. Isn’t this the stuff that you get into when you are old and start wondering and caring about where you came from? I think it is a way of protecting yourself from the fragility of life.
My reluctance may be the result of the vagueness of my own family tree. Miss Dee has asked questions before and I have made a half-hearted attempt to ask my parents about it at her request. You see, my family history seems to be surrounded by a certain amount of mystique. A mystique, I strongly suspect, that is the upshot of lack of facts and a long line of storytellers.
Ok, so I know some things. For example, I know we have several different European ancestries. At last count, there are two that have a basis in fact and another one surrounded by the mysteries of sea migration.
Back in the day, everyone wanted to fit in, so if you came from another country you changed your surname and even your first name to blend in. So Giovanna became Joanne and Guillem became William. People could not spell and record keeping was not particularly accurate either. Grandma mentioned that she found out her mother’s date of birth had been a year earlier when she requested the birth certificate. Her own mother hadn’t known.
The ability to trace my ancestry back and to do so in a different language sounds like a lot of hard work to me with a low potential for discovery. But maybe that’s just my excuse for never having shown any interest. Was I wrong in not asking? Now that I have moved to a different country, I realise my chances of finding out are pretty slim. I don’t have many relatives to ask and distance makes things harder.
I am not going to dampen Miss Dee’s enthusiasm though. First of all, because it’s clearly important to her. Secondly, I believe it’s a healthy way of finding about the past. History is there to teach us and get us to do things better. It’s also about connections and reaching out to people.
Miss Dee has just called out again. Apparently we have relatives in Vancouver. I can see myself knocking on their door and saying: “Hi cousin, we are here to get to know you and visit the city.” Hmm, yes, I can imagine how that would go.
Mostly though, I think Miss Dee will get to appreciate how much of a melting pot she is. She will also learn that we are all related across the world when you go back far enough. If we all understood that, then perhaps we would welcome, rather than fear, diversity.