I’ve been trying to find out who I am. It is now a year since my granny died, and three months since my grandpa followed. Numb now to the grief and keen to heal harms I want to listen to the past in a new way.
I want to know more about where I came from.
The deaths of my last two grandparents extends the narrative of those who can no longer answer questions about the past directly, but there are still records to be found, names to discover and places to visit. The paraphernalia that filled their garage, desks and cupboards now partly fills mine. Thousands of photos documenting dozens of people (many we do not recognise). Letters, patents and diaries. Recipes from many years ago, along with remedies and reminders. Music written by my great-great-grandfather. Music rolls chosen by my great-grandfather and played on a special piano. Boxes of school memorabilia going back over seventy years. Books with curious inscriptions and addresses. Notebooks over a hundred years old in Victorian handwriting. Coins from around the world. Locks of hair, packed in tiny boxes. Posters from the family cinema and meticulous listings of every film they ever showed.
My family really did not like to throw things away.
I have space here and because I am curious I have gathered many of these things to examine and make some sense of. I now I have a heightened sense of curiosity about my past. What do those of us still alive share with those that went before?
Maybe it is because I want to belong or to find reasons for the unreasonable and the irrational. Now only my great-uncle remains from his generation. Time is slipping for finding answers for my many questions.
I like to work in bursts, and so I used a lot of a weekend recently when family records were available to me for free to look into several lines on my mum’s side of the family. It is only a beginning, but I was astonished at how much I could find quickly.
My granny never knew her father. We have one photo and a name, and not a lot more. However, it is possible to begin to piece the evidence together and we are learning a little about where she came from.
I looked my granny’s maternal line and found that there were records on her mother, whose first husband was killed in World War 2 and whose second husband was a surgeon, originally from India. There is plenty about her (estranged?) grandfather and his work around the world as an electrical and mechanical engineer. There is a little on her grandmother and her many siblings, including a brother killed in the Somme.
My grandpa’s paternal line is composed of Cornish musicians, and possibly a line of bankers. Some of the stories resonate; some seem very remote.
Perhaps I will dig deeper and write about these discoveries. If I’m curious, I probably won’t be the only one.