They say that it is never a good idea to look back. Concentrate on today, they say – it’s a gift. That’s why it’s called “the present.”
And I do agree, up to a point. But as someone who loves delving into my family history, what could be more exciting than discovering a skeleton or two in the cupboard? Or in a car park, I suppose, if you are Richard
I’ve been researching my family history for sixteen years. I began my Journey into the Past when my first grandchild was expected and I realised that
I knew nothing at all about my paternal grandmother. Not even her name. What a sad admission. But something easily remedied, I thought. What I didn’t know was that I was about to be drawn into a major obsession from which there appears to be no
I remember the very first time I travelled to the Records Office in London where I’d heard that all the Births, Marriages and Deaths since 1837 were there
for my inspection. Opening up the massive volumes and seeing the handwritten entries in the very earliest books felt like walking into history. All around me, other people were hauling books onto the desks and leafing through them in search of
their own family member. Every so often someone would sigh in frustration or give a muted “whoop!” to signal a successful search. All human life was there.
I knew my grandmother’s surname and that she died when my father was about two. Armed with this information, it wasn’t too difficult to find her in the volume for deaths between September – December 1918. Her name was Clara!
Of all the many discoveries I have made since then, this remains one of the most special. This grandmother whom I had never known, who died so very many years before
I was born, who never saw her little lad, my Dad, grow up, now had a name. She died aged just 31 in the Flu Pandemic that followed World War I. She was buried in an unmarked, common grave with the baby she gave birth to hours before she died. I don’t
have a photograph to remember her by. Just her name.
What’s in a name? Shakespeare once memorably asked. Quite a lot, I think most of us would say. Our name, after all, is something that is all
ours (it doesn’t matter how many others may share it with us.) Some of us, of course, mess about with our names. Not content with the name on our birth certificate, we shorten it, change the spelling, add a nickname. I am one of the worst offenders,
having shortened my name to “Jaqui” at the age of 13 (that being the age when most of us start trying to assert our own identity.) I didn’t realise, at the time, that the simple action of leaving the “c” out of my name was
going to cause me so much trouble in the future.
In today’s World of Email Communications, my name is a problem to other people. They insist on believing
that I am unable to spell my own name and adding the missing “c”, thus turning Jaqui to Jacqui at single key-stroke – and sending their possibly really important emails into some dark electronic hole where all the wrongly-addressed emails
My father, as fathers do, always called me by my full name “Jacqueline”. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t stick with it, all those years ago.
Apart from anything else, with its ten letters it is the longest girl’s name I know. Which must count for something.
By the way, you can’t consult
those wonderful volumes of births, marriages and deaths in the same way any more. Time marches on and everything is on-line now. It’s faster, cheaper, more efficient and I don’t have to travel to London to find the date when Sarah Riley married
George Green, the pocket book maker from Bethnal Green.
But I’ll always be glad I opened a real book, turned the pages, ran an excited finger down the list
of “Ushers” - and discovered Clara’s name for myself. And even more glad that, at the very least, I can make sure all my own grandchildren know the name of their great-great-grandmother...