Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Family

My Family.

Spiked perhaps by the TV programme “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 and where 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.


Mike Murphy said...

From Mike Murphy
Hi Janet
My family research threw up my maternal great grandfather's two sisters who were both writers in Victorian times in England. Harriet Boultwood had more than a dozen novels published, all moralistic tales of children who learned to be good. I have copies of two of them purchased from antique book dealers. I know less about her sister, Emma Leslie, and have no copies of her work.

Mike Murphy said...

From Mike Murphy
Hi Janet
More from my family history - my paternal great grand mother claimed to be the illegitimate daugher of a well-known doctor in Victorian London who came from a wealthy family. When his first wife divorced him her family accused him of being Jack the Ripper! He married again and seems to have spent most of his life working among the poor, accumulating another wife and possibly 20 children, either legitimate, illegitimate or unexplained, possibly waifs just taken in off the streets. He died in his 90s still riding around Yarmouth to visit patients on an odd-looking bicycle which can now be seen in the local museum. Please feel free to incorporate any of the above in one of your family sagas. :)

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