“My family is very boring”. How many times do we, amateur genealogists, hear this awful phrase when we ask someone if they have ever researched their family history? Is it any wonder that people think their ancestry is as boring as Michael Parkinson’s, if they have never taken the time to even begin to explore their roots? It doesn’t take a wise mind to realise that absolutely all families are interesting, one way or another.
Think about it: each and every one of our ancestors had a life to live and a story to tell. All our ancestors since the dawn of time had a childhood, a family, a personality; unless they were aristocrats (not my case), they all had to work for food, and worried about money probably; I am sure they invariably witnessed the modernisation of the human race too. I think it is clear they all had something interesting to tell. So do not dare to think your family is boring, please!
Obviously, there are degrees. Most of my family tree, for instance, is plagued with farmers and domestic servants, but there are one or two exceptions. There are also several interesting and unusual professions: from canary breeders to stone cutters, a pub landlord and even (get this!) a hooker! (I’ll explain that last one at a later date, don’t worry.)
But you have to realise that ancestors are more than just a name, a couple of dates, a spouse or two and a long list of babies. Someone’s place of work, their financial situation, their travels, the heirlooms they left behind, all reveal small details about their day-to-day lives which all help to bring them alive to us. And just think of the stories that we will never be able to find out about.
For instance: I may not feel a tremendous connection to an ancestor who lived in the mid-1700’s, but when I found out that he was a foundling and never knew his parents, then I realised how terribly sad his life must have been at first. I am sure he often wondered who his real parents were, and perhaps more tragically, why they gave him away without giving him a chance.
I may not feel any particular warmth toward my Italian great-grandfather’s grandmother either, but when you see that her daughter went back to her house to give birth to her only baby, and it was this old lady who walked several miles the following morning to register the child in the local registry office, then you can almost picture the moment when it all happened, when she made her way down the hill one (probably snowy) December morning over a century ago.
In conclusion, ancestors have an odd way of coming alive to us. Many stories will never be told; others are just waiting to be brought to life. But once you’ve found out about your family, even if it’s as close as your parents or grandparents, you’ll soon discover that there is a lot more than what you expected. Trust me. And start digging.