Keep it in the Family

Keep it in the Family

When I was younger I had almost no interest in genealogy or family history. I knew who I knew and that was all that mattered. It must be a sign of growing older that made me turn my gaze backward towards my roots. Maybe when we are young we are thinking more of the future and where we are going, rather than back at where we came from. But as the years have passed so my interest in my roots has grown.

It started with my deep ancestry and sending off a sample of my DNA to the National Geographic. I wrote about that in a blog post here. Pretty soon after I joined and began to look into my more recent history. My mother’s side was easy and soon I found that the Stannett name comes from Bohemia in the 1600s. My Dad’s Mum was also easy to trace and that centred around Sussex. I found I have a direct ancestor from the 1700s buried in Portslade cemetery just a little way from where I live now. My Dad’s father was harder to track down. He never really knew him and also wasn’t 100% sure of his middle name. So that side of the family was left pretty much unexplored.

I filled in what I could find and left it.

FullSizeRender 3About three weeks ago I was contacted on Ancestry by a woman who believed her Dad was my Dad’s brother. Sure enough it was true. Not only that but there was another brother who was living quite a distance away. So I found myself chatting on email to my, until then, unknown cousin! A few days later and we met at my parents house.

It was wonderful. I saw photos of my grandfather for the first time and my Dad’s newly-found brother, who had grown up in quite a small family, now found himself part of a much bigger one. I met two cousins, including the one who had made that initial contact. My Dad has also since been in touch through Skype with the other brother and a meet up is on the horizon there too.

I am an only child. No, I really am – no such surprises for me. So it’s hard for me to even imagine the excitement of meeting previously unknown siblings, but I saw it in the eyes of everyone in that room, and my Dad is so happy, as are his brothers. It’s introduced me to a previously unknown ancestral line, one that is alive and well, and feeling much closer now. I even found out that a book has been written about that side of the family!

So if you have been sitting on the fence about Ancestry, or about looking into your family tree, I hope this little tale might inspire you to have a go. It really is very easy and the tools are all available now from the comfort of your home. All you need is a computer, an internet connection, and some details of your immediate family members.

I do also know that families are complicated, and some people might just want to keep those doors closed. For me, I’m thinking about my children and their children. If I’ve put in the work to look into this then those who follow me will know their roots and this, like the roots of the mighty oak, can help us feel more grounded and centred.

10 responses to “Keep it in the Family”

  1. It is a wonderful thing Dave to research you ancestry. My sister and I have done ours as far back as we can go, its been a real labour of love and put us in touch with many unknown relatives both still living and passed on.

  2. Fascinating stuff- how lovely! And isn’t it interesting that you have Bohemian roots too, through your mother? So there is a Czech connection tying in with your visits here to Prague. All the best. Jeremy

  3. What I really wish is that I’d asked more questions of my family while I still had them. There were all kinds of influences in my life that I just accepted (including my pagan beliefs) but I never thought to ask where my parents and grandparents got them from. There’s only so much that Ancestry can tell you – talk to your relatives while you have them. Even the seemingly obvious questions. Not just what they did for a living, but why they chose that career (assuming they had a choice). Who their friends were. How they met them.
    (I’m not knocking Ancestry – I’ve found out lots there too!)

    • We value the myths of our distant ancestors but tend to forget that things that we take and took for granted will gradually fade from memory so I agree; don’t just look as far back as possible, find out the day to day stuff from your older, living relatives wherever possible and, where possible, be prepared to pass it on yourself. One of the roles of the historical druids and bards was to memorise the history of the “tribe” so that it was never lost. We have the details of the lives of kings (though I’d guess a limited number of druids are still royalists or care much) but how many of us take the trouble to preserve our own history. (Anyone else remember milkmen and rag-and-bone men with horse drawn carts; gas street lights, houses with no electricity? Probably quite a few of you but how long before these things are seen as something from prehistory rather than something from our own childhood?)

      I’ve never got round to doing any genealogical research myself but my father, before he died, did some on his side of the family and I have the family tree he constructed which goes back to 1734. More important to me though; he left notes about the lives of the people he researched and particularly the stories he remembered from his own childhood. It’s these stories that fascinate me much more than the A begat B begat C etc. Still, there’s much that he didn’t write down and much that he talked about when I was young that I can’t remember: when we’re young we tend not to listen to the reminiscences of the old; as we get older we wish we had!

      A few years ago I set myself the task of collating the stories from my father’s rough notes and writing down everything I could remember about his own life. I’ve included pictures of the places people lived where they still exist (thank you Google streetview!) and I’ve even gone on and included stories from my own life. When I die, (or if he shows an interest before then!) I’ll pass this on to my son. Perhaps he won’t be interested but perhaps his own son will. At least I’ll have tried to do my duty and keep the stories alive.

  4. Wonderful stuff Dave. Such a good outcome for you, so worth doing. One thing, maybe not for you necessarily but for anyone reading this and deciding to set out on this journey: My wife is an *actual* expert- she deconstructs messes made by less able researchers (and sometimes fraudsters) for certain organisations. It’s a calling. She says: always do it yourself from scratch, don’t completely trust ANYTHING you’re told. There is more rubbish in Burkes general armoury and the Harliean manuscripts than your local recycling centre. The good sources are National Archives, census returns and the parish registers. Check the nature and strength of the evidence you use, and NEVER. EVER. copy someone else’s work on Ancestry. It’s extremely likely to be wrong, at least at a time earlier than the beginning of the census returns in 1841. Ancestry records are OK, but most beginners use them wrongly.

    To have a happy outcome the work has to be right. Don’t rush, and don’t be fooled into thinking that the trees on various sites which have huge numbers of individuals on them are good. These things are the worst for copied errors.
    As for “crests” and “Coats of Arms” (properly Coat-Armour) bandied around the internet so often, to stand any chance of getting that one right you need months or years of formal study of the subject, it’s horrifically complex. A lot of otherwise quite competent researchers do not understand the subject at all, and worse, don’t realise.
    The path home to the ancestors is fraught with dead ends and the possibility of error, but then when was anything worth doing easy?

  5. I would really like to do this…is there a free or cost effective way of doing it?…money is a big problem for my family in these times.

    • Ancestry gives you three blank trees. It’s not strictly form, but if you collaborate with others- trusted friends/relatives that is- you might find a way to share the cost of membership? £100 or so per year 3 ways might be do-able?

      Also, find out everything you can from every single person in your family and write it down. Do not allow them to be vague about names and dates, press them to give you the lot. Just doing that is a fantastic start, and many folk zoom past this important stage because of the fact of their shiny new Ancestry tool.

      Hope that helps.

  6. I did the search a few years ago and have to agree with you, it’s amazing the things one can discover. It opens up your life in so many ways. In my case I had always felt a kinship with the Celtic people but came to believe it must have been a past life thing because there was never any mention by my parents of any Celtic ancestry. It only took two generations back for my mother’s line to end up in England and then one more step back into Scotland. Because I hit royalty along the way I was able to go back as far as the 1000’s. What a rush it all was! I didn’t find any long lost relatives in the present as you did, but I certainly did find long lost relatives. I am also interested in doing the DNA testing so I’m heading over to your entry on your experience with it.

    Like you, one of the reasons I did this was for my children and grandchildren and all that come after. They won’t have to wonder like I did about where their family came from. Thanks for sharing your lineage with us. I find these things fascinating!

  7. Thanks Dave. I’ve been dallying round the edges on this but your blog has given me the what ever it is I need to continue.

  8. Glad it all worked out for you all. You know when you get an email from someone via ancestry, you wonder if it’s kosher (I’ve had some really strange ones over the years). The other person had no tree to view (I usually give these people low priority, if any at all!) , so it took some working out to trace the smith line. I did quiet well considering the family name! In the meantime “G” went on holiday and I chose (rightly or wrongly) not to interrupt their holiday, not knowing how she would take it (I’ve only met them a few time), after all what’s another week after 65 years for the new “D”. I was kind of damned if I did or didn’t give these new family members the emails they requested without getting the OK from “G”.

    Any way Dave if you still have access to Ancestry I can give you a link to my tree which facilitated it all. You do feature on the tree and rather shamelessly I have a link to your pages on your profile.

    Best Regards Ian.

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