Monday, October 4, 2010
FAMILY HISTORY - WHY BOTHER?
Recently I took the family history to be bound – for the second time. The first time was a few years ago when I thought it was done. But family history doesn’t let you go, doesn’t let you walk away just like that. Once you start looking back at who and where you came from, you can’t resist the tempting lure of a juicy piece of new information that fits into the jigsaw puzzle that is the story of the people who lived before you.
Why bother with all that old stuff? I’m not sure. There is a need to connect yourself to something – a web of belonging. There is a sense of history, both personal and social, that you want to explore. There is the mystery, and the thrill of the chase, following clues, building up pictures of people and events that become clearer through the mist of time. Fanciful? Oh yes. Romantic? Certainly. Deranged? Some would say so.
Many years ago someone sent me a hand-written family tree. Although the first ancestor shown lived in the sixteenth century I was not moved, and filed the document somewhere safe and forgot about it. Much later I was walking along South Brighton beach in Christchurch (New Zealand) and I realised that the headlands in front of me flanked Lyttelton harbour. A thread of memory drifted to the surface: my great-grandfather had guided his sailing ship Euterpe safely to port, not once but many times, between those headlands. My great-grandfather had been there. He had stood on the deck of the ship and looked through his spy-glass at those same headlands. A century ago.
That was the moment. I was hooked. I wanted to know about this man, these people, and I wanted to write about them, tell my family about them. They will not be interested for years yet, as I was not interested, but one day some of them – perhaps only one of them – will care. The book has been written, expanded and bound – again – because more information keeps coming to light. It is, I fear, an obsession.
The photograph is of the ship Euterpe in San Diego harbour.