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Why should genealogy matter?

Quote: A man dies twice - once when his heart stops and again when he is forgotten -- Jewish Proverb


23 years ago I was a young nurse with time on my hands. I had always been interested in local history and was always curious to know why things happened the way they did. Why did the road bend to the left rather than to the right? What influenced the men who built the road? I was fascinated by such things.

Prior to 1982 I had shown very little interest in researching my family tree. Then one day, all that changed.

My father ‘David’ died when I was only 2 years old, and I had just a few hazy memories of him. Since being a young girl, I was told that he never knew the identity of his own Father, my Grandfather. David Norris died at the age of 44 with his lungs full of silicon from inhaling coal dust. He went to his grave never knowing his true identity or the origins of his birth. He was a strong man who lived such a short life.

I was in my mid twenties, when it suddenly occurred to me that I owed him this much - his father’s name.

So one spring morning I asked my Mother to come with me to the village where he grew up. He was born in a small area of Westhaughton in Lancashire known as Daisy Hill. There had been a great deal of ill feeling over my father’s death back in 1962, and the families had long since divided and gone their own separate ways.

My Mum ‘Ivy’ had re-married and saw little of her once Mother in Law ‘Margaret Norris’. When Margaret died, no money was left for her only child’s family and this served to widen the division even more.

When I drove my mother back to Daisy Hill in the spring of 1982, it had been twenty years since my father’s death. We just knocked on the doors of my aunties, uncles and cousins, and smiled at their expressions of surprise, shock and horror. Most of them were polite, but we felt unwelcome.

Then one kind old lady was pleased to see us and showed us some hospitality. Nobody bothered to visit her anymore and she was delighted to spend the whole day talking to us. I learned all about my Grandfather and the scandal surrounding my Dads illegitimate birth back in 1918. My father could be at peace now. I had done what I had set out to do.

The unfriendly relatives warned us never to come back or darken the paths of Daisy Hill ever again. It turned out that they were afraid that my Mother and I were after some measly inheritance that should have gone to Margaret’s Grandchildren. She died without a will and her house was stripped of its possessions by these greedy relations. They so missed the point. This was not about money; it was about recovering my father’s identity - which I did. I was happy - mission accomplished, and off I went never to return until 2005.

Ironically, the sweet old lady passed away about 9 months later. She left her property and all her money and belongings to an animal charity, which in itself spoke volumes about what she really thought of her other relatives. She left me her ‘shipping shares’ having met me just the once. Of course that played right into the hands of the ‘bad relatives’ who had suspected all along that I was out to manipulate a dear old lady.

How little they knew of me. How little they knew her and what she was really trying to tell them by this final gesture. She didn’t really like animals that much.

Time passed and my interest in genealogy had been satisfied. I had done what I set out to do, so I got on with my life.

23 years later, my interest in genealogy unexpectedly returned. Once again, I darkened the well trodden paths of Daisy Hill. I entered the Church yard and paced the graves (something I see as a ‘down side’ to this particular hobby).

Did I meet all my relatives from Daisy Hill again? The answer is ‘yes’- I certainly did. Their names were all around me - inscribed into the many gravestones within the cemetery. All of them now long gone from this world.

The houses they lived in now made way for luxury 2 bed roomed apartments.

If I had left it until 2005 to research my family tree, I would have never have found out my Grandfathers name. The secret of his identity would have died along with all the people I now see buried.

I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity when I did. I have photographs of how the Village used to be when my father would have known it. I have pictures in my head of both the good and bad relatives that I would never have known had I left it any later. I now have the privilege of sharing this experience with many strangers over the Internet.

Genealogy isn’t just about what happened 300 years ago. It isn’t just about sitting on the Internet and typing surnames into search engines. It isn’t even about going to libraries and reading about yesterday.

It is about collecting pictures, photographs, memories, stories, experiences and feelings right here and now - before they are all gone forever. It’s about saving things up for the future. Nothing stays the same in this world of ours and we have to capture and record what we can, while we can.

On this final philosophical point, here is my last quote of the day. I hoped you have gained some message and meaning from my personal story.


A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us,
for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,
for as long as we ourselves live,
holding memories in common, a man lives.
His lover will carry his man's scent, his touch;
his children will carry the weight of his love.
One friend will carry his arguments,
another will hum his favourite tunes,
another will still share his terrors.
And the days will pass with baffled faces,
then the weeks; then the months,
then there will be a day when no question is asked,
and the knots of grief will loosen in the stomach,
and the puffed faces will calm.
And on that day he will not have ceased,
but will have ceased to be separated by death.

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