I’ve been trying to trace my family tree.
I don’t have roots. I don’t have a hometown that I can return to that has loads of my relatives kicking about, sharing my eyes, my nose, my barbecue. For that matter I’ve never been aware of having that many relatives at all. Oh there were vague stories here and there, but I was always given the impression that most of my distant family travelled - either off to Canada or Australia, or even to different towns within the UK.
I was always a bit envious of people who seemed to be a part of an extended family, people for whom the clan was always there as a support. I never had that and still can’t really imagine what it would be like.
We always moved a lot: my father’s a particularly restless soul and usually after around 3 years or so in any one place he’d start getting wanderlust again. He’s pretty certain we have gypsy blood in us somewhere, although I wondered if this was just a bit of romanticism. However, he recently pointed me to a website that claimed that Ayres is a more common surname among gypsies.
I think I’ve always been left with a feeling of being out there on my own, with no roots to return to for support. It’s connected to a sense that I’ve come down a somewhat isolated strand of our family. My father was an only child and my mother had one surviving brother, who was responsible for my only 3 cousins, and I’ve seen them in the flesh barely half a dozen times in my life.
So what’s with the fascination about my ancestry now? I think as we get older, and more aware of our own mortality, we inevitably reflect on those that went before us, who we can’t talk to anymore. Only as an adult can I begin to think how much I actually had in common with my mother’s father. I would love to sit down and chat with him now, but he died 20 years ago.
When you’re a child, all adults get grouped together as “other” – a strange breed of human being that you don’t understand. But as a grown up, I start to realise that these people were not that different from me; that they struggled with all the questions about family, work, life and meaning that I do; and that I share some of my blood with them. If it wasn’t for the decisions they made, I wouldn’t even be here. As an adult, I have a different view of them, a newfound respect for what they had to deal with.
So who were my clan? What were they like? I really have very little idea.
I was aware that my mother’s mother came from a very large family, but I didn’t know much beyond a couple of first names of siblings. However, after meeting with my uncle at my mother’s funeral, he gave me an email address of one of his cousins in Australia, Doreen. She has managed to fill in a few gaps and it turned out that my Grandmother was one of somewhere between 16 and 19 children and her mother’s parents owned the Huggins Brewery.
On the other side of the family, my father had notes of a newspaper article written in 1936 about the diamond-wedding anniversary of his mother’s grandparents. Apparently they had 12 children.
So out there somewhere are loads of relatives I’ve never met and it all feels a little odd. Part of me wants to find them all, contact them and say, “Here I am, your long lost cousin! Embrace me as part of your own!” While at the same time I’m aware that no matter how much blood I share with any of them it doesn’t meant that we’ll necessarily have anything else in common. I mean, I don’t have that much to do with my brother and sister, and they share exactly the same bloodline as me.
I don’t know how far it will take me, or whether I’ll get bored and it will all fizzle out in a few days, but part of me wants to try and create some kind of record for my children to refer to, if nothing else.
There’s a site called genesreunited.co.uk that allows you to create your family tree online, for free. I don’t know what the professionals use, but I found it to be a pretty nifty tool. If you want to sign up for a fee of £10 (approx $16US) you can take a look at other people’s trees if they give you permission. It looks like there might be one or two other people on the site who share a common ancestor, so I’ve decided to pay the membership and see if I can extend this tree a bit.
Infinity stretches out behind us and infinity stretches out in front of us. It’s a very small snapshot of time in which we exist.