I am always interested to hear the reasons people give for having started their family history research. Often they have been provoked by some specific event in their life, or some chance discovery that made them curious. I’d love to hear from all of you – why did you start your research?
Personally, I don’t really know why I started. It was 2006, and Who Do You Think You Are had not long hit our screens. When it first started, I remember watching it with my mum and both of us saying that we were going to do it one day.
I’m generally very close to my family, but in terms of its history this was always stronger on my mum’s side. I grew up in a large-ish village, where my maternal grandmother’s family, at least, always seemed to be quite deeply rooted (this turned out to be entirely correct – I’ve got one line back to at least 1750 living there!)
As a young child I can remember being around many, many ‘aunties’. We’d just bump into them in the street. My mum’s older cousin was a bus driver; she used to let us on for free whenever she picked us up. When I got a bit older many of the older relatives died. But still I remember my mum saying hi to apparent strangers in the street. When I’d ask who they were she’d only be able to give me a vague idea as to how we were related to them. I would mention names of people from school, to be told that they were in some way connected to the family. My last surviving great-aunt died when I was fourteen. She was in her eighties. I used to sit listening to her talk about her childhood and find it absolutely fascinating. I only regret that I didn’t write any of it down!
So, the background for my starting to research my family history was there. It was this particular line that I started with. I was lucky in that I’d grown up knowing the names of my ancestors; or at least, knowing that certain names were connected with my family. These interesting ‘orphan’ facts were invaluable when I was first starting out.
As to what happened to particularly set me on the path on the day that I first started my family history, I still struggle to say. I was living in France at the time, teaching for 12 hours a week, with little else to do, with limited funds but a free internet connection. I guess you might conjecture that being far away from my family might have prompted me to want to find out about their history, but I can’t say that I remember thinking that at the time.
I remember that the 1881, 1891 and 1901 census were all free to non-member on Ancetry.co.uk as part of some promotion. I guess that probably helped (like I said in On being a young genealogist – the internet makes the research both easier and cheaper). But I really don’t remember why or how I ended up on their website, or what I was even doing online before I got there...
I do, however, remember being almost instantly hooked!
I think this was partly because it was quite easy to begin with, but yet I did have to use my brain. I’d liken it to when I first learnt to do Sudoku. It’s requires just a bit of brain power, but then you get a little adrenaline hit from the achievement. And then you get hooked into ever trickier puzzles, and each time you solve one you get that little rush of adrenaline.
And it’s the gift that keeps on giving. You never ‘finish’ your family tree. Not even if you’re Brooke Shields (if you haven’t seen that episode of WDYTYA USA, you really should!) One line might be really extraordinary. But what about all those other lines you haven’t followed yet? With each generation, your number of ‘lines’ doubles, and so does the fun!
Next time: What is family history?