My Family History

Surrounded by piles of photos, prints and digital, and indebted with family facts and stories, I struggle to shape it into a sensible narrative.

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Curating the family history is a challenging exercise and yet I am enthusiastic to weave it together for prosperity and for anyone who might someday wonder.

This is something that has interested me for many years and I have been on some previous fact finding missions that revealed things we didn’t know. I love to find out about our origins and the lives of our ancestors. I can name three ships that brought different branches of the family to Australia: The Hampshire, The Shand, and The Niagara. I love to see the photos of ancestors to spot the family resemblances that crop up unexpectedly.

Not a ‘scrap-booker’ by nature I think that ultimately a hand crafted personal creative book would be a beautiful result. In the meantime I have begun to do a simple storyboard using PowerPoint to set out my narrative. There are obvious important gaps that need to be filled somehow.

So I think about others in the family who have compiled remarkable genealogies that are relevant and interesting to my story. One of my father’s cousins has passed away now and I wonder where that wealth of knowledge is now. Another cousin of my husbands father must be very old now if not also passed away – where is her lovely story and impressive pedigree charts now? Another – my cousin is contactable, but that branch of the family story is well documented already, so not as pressing.

Some of the old photos are gorgeous but without captions the identities are a mystery. ‘A picture tells a thousand words’ but also presents many questions; such a who, where, when, why.

This historic photo for example is of the family of Smiths who lived in Portland Victoria Australia. One of the boys is my paternal grandfather.

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Family members who knew them previously identified the others in the photo. A scribble on the back of a print states that this photo was taken in 1920 in Portland, just prior to the family being ‘separated’. The father and mother of this family are not in the photograph because they had both passed away. I know the story and it is a tragic tale that I will include in my personal family history when the time comes.

Meanwhile my investigations continue and I try to wrangle this precious pile of pictures into something interesting and useful.

You are what you read

Are you influenced by what you read? Does your mind absorb the ideas set down by others? Do you live inside the scenes created, even temporarily? I suppose that’s why reading fiction is a form of escapism.

 

As a Librarian it is no surprise that I value books and reading for self improvement. I value learning from the experiences, and thoughts that others have worked so hard to set down in words. The more you read the more you learn. Even if you don’t retain it all and reject some ideas, we grow and evolve by taking on a little bit from each book we read.

 

At the moment I am reading a novel titled Deception” by Michael Meehan. It is about a young Australian man who traces his ancestry to France in order to unravel his family history. It is exquisitely told, set in the Australian desert, Paris and New Caledonia. He weaves his tale masterfully between the past and the present. I have engaged in tracing my family history in the past and yet for the first time it has occurred to me to trace the one French branch of my family tree. It would be so interesting to learn some more French history while unraveling my own family tree, also fulfilling my love of all things French.

 

Meanwhile someone close to me has discovered they have cancer. It is a shock. I remember reading a few years ago a book titled Your Life In Your Hands” by Jane Plant. She is a UK scientist who had breast cancer, suffered through chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiation treatment, and was eventually given 6 months to live. As a scientist she researched the situation thoroughly, eventually having a “light-bulb” moment thinking that in Asian cultures the incidence of breast and prostrate cancer is remarkably low and they don’t eat dairy products. Eliminating dairy products from her diet from that moment the tumors shrank and disappeared altogether. She wrote her book in 2000 and now in 2008 she is alive and cancer free. Her experience, research and discoveries provide hope and practical advice for others facing the cancer death sentence. I gave the book to that person to read and make up their own mind. After all what have they got to lose?

 

Not only are we what we read but we are what we eat!