My good friend Kelly Wheaton recently wrote a really thought provoking blog about how she first became interested in researching her family history and the reasons why she started on her family history journey, the link to Kelly’s blog can be found here;
What Got You Started in Genealogy
Kelly also asked her friends to stop and consider how we became interested in this fascinating hobby of ours and like Kelly’s journey, there was no one single defining moment for me, it was a series of moments that brought me to where I am today and it’s by sharing those moments with everyone, that inspires me to continue.
If I am asked directly ‘why did you start researching your family history’ I always say to people that it was losing my dad, when I was just three years old, that first piqued my interest. As I grew up, I always had a sense that a part of me was ‘missing’, that there was a gap in my life. It was only as I grew older that I realized that the gap had become a chasm, as I knew so little about my dad.
My early years after dad died, were spent living with my grandparents and I had a wonderful childhood and wouldn’t change that for anything. I grew up with a large extended family around me, but it still felt different at school, when other kids mentioned their dads. So I began to ask questions about my dad, what was he like, where did he work, the usual questions that any inquisitive child would ask. This provided me with both the inspiration and also more importantly provided me with the ‘thirst’ to find out more about my family and it was that yearning to always want to find out more, that provided the catalyst later in life. Of course at this stage I had no idea what family history was, all I wanted to do was find out more about my dad.
That all changed when I met Dave Smith at work, in the mid- 1980’s. Dave was my first Foreman when I first started work and he taught me everything I needed to know about Engineering and his attention to detail has always stuck with me throughout my working life. Despite our obvious age difference, we got on really well and became good friends, as well as work colleagues. Over the months and years, I got to know more about Dave’s family and life over our dinner breaks and Dave would always tell me about his Family Tree and his latest discoveries. He would bring envelopes literally bulging with papers and documents and his enthusiasm was infectious, and the seeds were sown. Dave was kind enough to lend me some books and help me understand how to research, how to build a tree, this was way before the days of the internet. In those days it was all about visiting Libraries, Record Offices, joining your local Family History Society (Essex) and searching surname lists and even writing letters NOT emails! I was hooked.
So I began researching my Chiddicks family in more depth, utilising the Library and Essex Record Office, it was a steep learning curve. Discovering the intricacies of loading a microfilm onto a reader and learning how to put a microfiche into a reader the right way round was no mean feat! With a name as rare as Chiddicks, I was quite quickly and relatively easily back several generations, until I hit my first brick wall (It’s still there now!). Other distractions came along, football, beer and of course girls and before long I was married with two young children and working every extra hour I could. Family History was well and truly parked. Around this time and in a very short space of time, I sadly lost all four of my grandparents. The tragic part of this, from a family history perspective, was that I never really the chance to ask them all the questions that I would love to ask them now! This is still today, one of my biggest family history regrets and I am sure there are hundreds of researchers out there wishing they had taken the time to ask their grandparents about their lives. So for anyone out there reading this, if you take nothing away from my ramblings, then please stop researching now and sit down and talk to you your grandparents, ask them the questions before it’s too late, you just never know how long you will have the warmth of their hug, the glow of their smile and the joy of their stories.
Below is a picture of yours truly with each of my truly special grandparents, who I loved dearly.
My next pivotal moment came when my mum and her sisters were clearing out my grandparents house. It was only by pure chance, that they discovered my great-grandfather’s WW1 medals and thankfully they had the foresight to keep them safe and not consign them to the charity shop. To this day, I still don’t know why, out of five grandchildren, I was the one chosen to be the recipient of the medals. But I am eternally grateful to mum and my Aunt’s for holding onto the medals and passing them to me. My great-grandfather John Edwin Barnes of the Essex Regiment became the very first ancestor that I researched fully in depth and from these medals, I made a deep and lasting connection to him and so began a life long passion and hobby for the last 20 years.
The Life and Times of John Edwin Barnes
For me there was no one defining moment, it was a series of life events that started the ball rolling and like the snowball effect, once you’ve started you just can’t stop the momentum. I have been so fortunate over the years to have met some truly wonderful family ‘cousins’ that I would never have met, had I not delved into tracing my family history. I have also had the pleasure of meeting some truly wonderful ‘Genie Friends’ that I regard as lifelong friends and I have made some unique friendships and shared so many moments with these wonderful friends. This would never have happened without this wonderful hobby of ours. I have visited many ancestral homes, villages and cities over the years and again, the chances are, without the desire to find out where my ancestors came from, I would never have had these wonderful experiences. I think you can only truly find out who you are as a person, by finding out where you came from, some will disagree with that philosophy, but for me, it’s a key part of who I am today…………….
There have been many high’s and a few low’s along the way, some family members of course are no longer with me, but overall the high’s have by far outweighed the low’s. Who knows where the next twenty years will take me and what amazing discoveries I will make along the way
A friend asked me recently “if at my age I still had ambitions?” My reply was that I am more ambitious now than at any other stage in my life…………never give up dreaming.
Let me know your thoughts, what drove you to start researching your family tree and what still drives you and motivates you today, to continue with your work.
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10 thoughts on “How It Started, How It’s Going……….”
I love old photos and was intrigued by the fact my mother’s mother had 7 siblings.
Many years later, I worked as admin at a charity helping people with post adoption. We had our own Search Room, microfiche etc. I was intrigued and one of the volunteers helped me begin the family tree. Ironically, the father of the 8 children turned out to be my brick wall. He definitely doesn’t want to be found LOL
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Thanks Jude is he still a brick wall today or have you smashed through that one?
No, he continues to be my man of mystery. He consistently said he was from London…but just not an area of London.
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My oldest brick wall is still there it’s 20 years old now!
Though my grandmothers both passed on some family tree information to me, it wasn’t until I married in 1999 that I started looking into it. I did not grow up near extended family and had begun to feel a lack. I remember when I started building my first tree on Ancestry and couldn’t find an obituary for my grandma’s youngest brother—because he was still living! I had no idea. I met him and his wonderful wife and another great-aunt by marriage. I’ve met many of my parents’ cousins, again, people I should have known but didn’t. Then I started putting together stories and sharing them. This is really my focus now. Genealogy is just a tool I use to build a history. You bet I wish I had learned more about my grandparents’ lives when they were still living – and what they could tell me about their forebears.
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Thanks Eilene for sharing your journey, you don’t know what you don’t know, especially at the start, and sometimes assumption can be our downfall. I remember my Aunt giving me some family photos some years ago and one was a picture of my great-grandfather taken in Sydney Australia when he was a teenager. I immediately rang my Aunt and she told me “that was when he was a steward on the ships, don’t you remember”, my reply was no I don’t remember nobody ever told me that story!
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My grandad lived in London and once he got his free bus pass decided the national archives was a cool place to hang out. He never really knew his dad who died when he was a boy and all other relatives were left behind in Newcastle when his mum, sister and he moved to London for mum to find work.
He had a beautiful tree drawn up in his living room and I was always fascinated. Then I fell pregnant with my first child and thought he/she ought to know where they come from so started to research to write a book for her 18th birthday gift. I have 1 1/2 years left to finish it!
Meanwhile writing a smaller version for my grandads 80th of his family. Never knew how how much this would come to mean to him as dementia set in only 2 years later. At 94 he carries it around the nursing home with him daily.
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Oh wow that brought tears to my eyes what a truly emotional and wonderful reason for you to carry on with Grandads work. Family History truly spans across the generations, hopefully your daughter and Grandads great-granddaughter will take up the mantle after she celebrates her 18th birthday. Thank
You for sharing such a beautiful and personal story with me.