My Introduction to Family HistoryI developed my fascination with genealogy a long time ago; I was probably about ten years old. Thinking about where this love of Family History came from I can remember the moment. My family and I were on holiday in Cornwall and visiting the graveyards in the Parishes my ancestors had lived in. I need to draw your attention to the fact that Pearson is my married name, my maiden name, Penter, is rather rare and means “end of land” in Cornish.
A rather rare nameThroughout my childhood, I had met no one who shared my surname outside of my immediate family. It was, therefore, a moment of great excitement to discover the grave of my five times grandmother who I shared my exact three names with. My parents took a photograph of me with this grave, and no doubt made a joke about economising when I passed away (they are children of WW2!). Unfortunately, I do not know what happened to the photo it is not in any of the albums (a problem of the pre-digital era). I know though that I returned home with a genuine interest in finding out more about all those who had gone before me.
Beginning the Family TreeInitially, my father began the research in the days before so much information was available online, in fact, none of his research came from the internet. Instead, he gathered it by going to Cornwall on holiday and spending time in Graveyards and Research centres. As the years ticked by he made slow inroads into the history. His style of research is very different to my own, he preferred to trace the pure male line. I can see some advantage in that as most individuals in the tree all share the same surname, very pleasing to see when the surname is your own.
Tracing my RootsEventually it came time to hand over the research to me, for me to continue his work. Thanks to my ready access to the internet and all the fantastic resources available out there, my philosophy was different. I kept searching and adding each individual I came across. The beauty of this is that I never need to hit a brick wall and got stuck. When one line dried up, I moved to a different branch of the tree and came back later to search for the missing information. Regularly it is readily available later because of a fellow genealogist reporting errors in transcriptions. I have set some great plugins up on my software to conduct searches, for instance, people with missing birth records or missing from one of the census record years. These are fantastic because they basically randomly generate a new starting point every time I hit a brick wall.
What makes a family?However, this brings me back to the original question. What does family mean to you? Is it a couple with 2.4 children? What about adoptive families, there are no blood ties but in every way that really matters they are family? As families increasingly spread out geographically in the modern world, many people class their nearest friends as a family. For me, having researched ancestors throughout the 18th and 19th centuries often living in small villages where eventually all the names become interwoven and intermarried, family means community.
Family in the Digital EraGiven that we now live in a modern world that is shrinking rapidly because of the internet. What will genealogy look like in the future? When we look backwards we see families living in communities, when one member moves they grow a new branch of the tree and another community grows. So often now siblings live miles apart from each other and marriage is far from being a given as it was a century ago. There are many only children and also many half siblings. Will the potential genealogists of the future have the same desire to piece the puzzle together?
A home for my researchAs somebody who has an interest in history and tracing my family history, but has no children to continue the tree. I feel that I am at an unusual crossroads. Thankfully, because of the internet my research is out there to help others (and I have also found distant cousins from around the world). Equally I now have a new family. Fellow Fibro warriors from around the world who live with this same life altering condition.
We are more than we used to be!When I research my family from over a century ago I find where they lived and what work they did. Occasionally their friends, then the ultimate relationship they entered and the family they produced. (unless you are fortunate enough to find long lost love letters, it is difficult to discover previous relationships, if these existed as so many people married young).
Has life improved over time?Now our lives include hobbies and interests, some of us converse with people all over the world. We can not only travel easier, but we can travel virtually from the comfort of our sofa. We are world citizens and our lives are so much fuller. Sometimes though, I look back at the images of ancestors surrounded by a dozen siblings living in the tiniest spaces with not much more than the clothes they are wearing and see how happy they are and can’t help wondering if we are poorer in other ways.
I would love to know your thoughts on this. Are you a fellow genealogist curious about the future of family history? Is family nothing to do with genetics for you? Whatever your thought, I love hearing from you so drop a comment below.