It is almost 23 years since I embarked on tracing my ancestors. This was well before the introduction of TV programmes like Who Do You Think You Are? which have done so much to excite people’s interest in their origins
- humble or otherwise. No, my motivation came from a very small person in the shape of my first grandchild, Katie, who was born 23 years ago in April next year.
birth brought home to me the fact that, having become a proud grandmother, I had no childhood pattern on which to base my behaviour, both my own grandmothers having died long before I was born. Shamefully, I had to confess to myself that in the case of my
paternal grandmother (who died when my dear Dad was just two years old) I didn’t even know her first name. And so I set forth not only to name my poor, departed grandmother - but to go back in time to discover my roots so that I could pass on whatever
I found to the latest sprig on our family tree.
Well, in the beginning I was totally obsessed. Indeed, so passionate was I about my new hobby that I managed to
pass on my enthusiasm to several other friends and colleagues who took up the challenge of unravelling their own pasts with great gusto. We even set up a small Family History group at work which met once a month and where all those of us nearing retirement
would complain about how little time we had to devote to family history and how this would all change once we retired.
I truly intended to allocate, say, one day
a week once I retired to concentrate on travelling back in time. That was over seven years ago and I’m still trying to find those few spare hours. To be fair to myself, I did get side-tracked by signing up for two military history projects run by the
County’s Library and Archives - one on the Great War and one on Military Voices. I like to think that my work on both projects benefited from the fact that I knew how to make best use of Birth, Marriage and Death indexes, that I knew my way round the
Census records and newspaper archives. I grew so close to the men and women whose lives I researched that they felt almost like family...
Now, all of a sudden,
my enthusiasm has been re-awakened since my Little Sister decided to join me in exploring our family tree. It is so much more fun having someone with whom to share each fresh discovery. It does mean, however, that together we are going off on even more tangents
than I managed alone. Mr B has always despaired if what he calls my “scatter-gun approach” to researching my ancestors; how much more efficient my researches would be, he says (with some truth) if I concentrated on my direct lines...
I am delighted to report that my Little Sister shares my waywardness. Like me, she can become enchanted by a particular person and want to know as much as possible about
them. There’s usually a reason, of sorts. My sister, for example, has become fascinated with Millie Marion Usher (one of our grandfather’s sisters) for the simple reason that Millie, like her, was born on November 14th - though there are, of course,
58 years between them. I understand that completely.
Yesterday I found myself totally immersed in the life and times of Florence Yarrow (neé Waterlow) who
was the younger sister of that paternal grandmother I never knew. I was drawn to her when I read my dad’s description of her - “she was very nice”. Florence had two daughters, Doris and Gladys. “I used to look after Doris and Gladys
at their home while Auntie Flo went out to work. We used to have quite fun and I used to take them (and I was only ten and a half years old) to Sunday School and Band of Hope.” That motherless boy sure had to grow up fast.
I remember talking to either Doris or Gladys on the phone in the early years of my research and being told that after taking them to school, my dad (who had himself left school at fourteen) liked to
go in to have a chat with the headmaster. It’s hard to imagine a fourteen year old boy today having that easy self-confidence.
Suddenly, on the Ancestry
website (other family history sites are, of course, similarly helpful if, like me, you enjoy wallowing in the past) I came across a young woman living in Sydney, Australia, who also has an interest in my Florence. I have no idea where she fits into my family
tree but somehow there’s a connection. Over the years I have traced three second cousins, all from different family lines - all called Colin! Wouldn’t it be marvellous to make another contact?
I do have an ulterior motive for contacting her. You are thinking, I am sure, that I’m angling for a trip Down Under - but it isn’t that at all.
You see, there is one thing I long for - a photo of my grandmother. I once dreamt I found a photo tucked into an old book, of her cradling a baby - but that’s all it was, a dream. Maybe, just maybe, Florence had photos
of herself with her older sister and the Australian Connection has a whole album of them...
Just one would do...