The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Family Tree

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 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.


Foot Eater said...

Interesting, Kim, and thanks for the link. I always used to scoff at people who were interested in their family trees, regarding them as seeking vicarious glory (and I did know someone who found out she was descended from royalty and acted as though this made her a better person in some way), but as you say, your attitude changes as you get older and I've become quite intrigued by this recently. I've inherited quite a dark complexion from my father's side, and have heard rumours that my not-so-distant ancestors might have spent time in India during the Raj.

Kim Ayres said...

Foot Eater - I guess you must look quite different to your Blunt Cogs character then.

It didn't occur to me about looking for a royalty connection, My grandmother's maiden name was King, but that's about as close as I expect to get. To be honest, I think I'm more intersted in finding out about the rogues and black sheep of the family.

Asher Hunter said...

It is very interesting to trace one's ancestry ... or course, coming from a large family myself, I sometimes envy those that don't have to put up with the hassle. :) But then, the grass is always greener.

Kim Ayres said...

That's true Asher - when we're on our own we want company, and when we're with others we can find ourselves desperately needing a quiet space on our own. No pleasing most people!

Attila The Mom said...

Asher sure is right about "the grass is greener"...

As an adoptee, I've never had a biological family history until I reunited with my birthfamily a few years ago.

The information on my adoption papers was a big fat lie (it said I was of Irish and German ancestry, and my biological mom is actually of Scottish and French descent).

She couldn't understand why I was so excited to have all of this genealogical information. Well duh, she's always known hers! ;-)

Hubby and I are thinking of doing an ancestral tour of Scotland either in late summer or early spring of next year. Maybe we can meet up and do lunch!

Mine is a Gin said...

I started work on my family tree a coule of years ago when one of my uncles died & left his genealogy research to me. It's fascinating stuff and feels like a sort of rites of passage. My father comes from a large family & as a child (particularly teenager) I felt no bond with any of them at all. Strange how, as I've got older, though I still feel I have very little in common with them I feel we're bound together.
And little family secrets pop out unexpectedly.
A good site for searching births deaths & marriages is Be warned though - it eats up hours of your time! (A bit like blogging, I suppose)

Gyrobo said...

I can tell you that being one of 10,000,000 identical robot drones can be annoying. But together, we've managed all sorts of things, such as the hollowing out of the caverns beneath Antarctica.

Where we will eventually store rice for the drought of 2012. It's coming. Prognostibot tells us.

Rhonda said...

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.

I love the above quote. And, the article.

St Jude said...

My father has been putting together our 'family tree'. It is so intriguing. I have relatives around the globe. My family have obviously been adventurers. I even discovered some years ago some who are native americans. I spent a whole summer living on a Navajo reservation. However my husband has only just discovered his siblings in the last two months, although he has 'known' them for the last 45 years. You are unique, you may share your genes, it's what you do with them that counts.

Kim Ayres said...

Atilla - Lunch always sounds good to me. Keep me up to date with your plans!

Mine is a gin - Already I can see how easily it could become extremely time consuming. I'll need to find a balance between the curiousity and the obsession

Gyrobo - 10 million? Do they all have blogs?

Rhonda - welcome to my ramblings. Thanks for taking the time to visit and to comment.

St Jude - We're all a weird mix. if we go back about 400 generations then we find that we're related to pretty much everyone, and if we go back 6,000 then we're another species. Amongst other things, I always felt it made racism look pretty stupid.

Anonymous said...

I can certainly understand not having a clear family line. My mother was an only child, as was her mother, as was her mother. My father had two siblings, one who died pretty young. All of my grandparents except one died when I was a child. I did not have a luxury of an extended family as a child, and certainly not now.

All I do know for certain is both sides of my family tree are from Germany and that my birth name "Hulslander" is an American variation of a german last name.

P.S. I am not at all surprised that you are interested in finding the rogues and black sheep of the family, as I am sure they would be more interesting than common folk.

Gyrobo said...

Blogs and cogs. Their cogs are a little blunt, though. I was thinking about that a few months ago and must have subliminally transferred it to your mind.

Unfortunately, instead of the glistening paradise depicted in my original vision, it translated in your biological brain as a comic strip.

Which is only 94% as awesome.

Kim Ayres said...

RNP - I know I had a great aunt from Germany, although that was by marriage rather than blood.

Gyrobo - thank you... I think...

Paul said...

Stumbled across your blog while looking for info about Carlingwark. I actually live at the other end of CD but am currently working at sea.Really enjoyed your ramblings, and can identify with most of what you say.I'll say "Hi" if I bump into you.
All the best

Kim Ayres said...

Hi Paul, and welcome to my ramblings - glad to be able to give you a wee taste of home :)

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