Now We Are 40: family history reflections

Cargreen shop old postcardBefore anyone suggests that I am not wearing well, or wishes me Many Happy Returns (do people still say that?), I am, sadly, not celebrating my 40th birthday. This week I enter my fifth decade of serious family history research. It was March 1977 when I took myself off, alone, to Cornwall to visit my father’s ancestral village for the first time. I arrived by public transport at a B & B some six miles away. All I can remember about this was that the proprietor chatted incessantly about her late husband’s role with the electricity board. The next day was Sunday. Said small ancestral village not being overly well blessed with Sunday public transport links (there weren’t any) I decided I would walk. I am still of the opinion that Cornish miles are longer than those elsewhere. I plucked up courage to enter the local pub (think lone female, 1977, rural pub) and ask if there was anyone of my surname living locally. It turned out that half the village were related and I was ‘adopted’ by members of the family instantly. They even had a car to take me back to the B & B.

Forty years on and the family history world has changed beyond recognition, not always for the better. The hobby/obsession has shaped my leisure time, my friendships, my working and academic life. I am still of the opinion that an understanding of history is crucial to our well-being, both personally and as a nation, as a world. Only this week a ‘think tank’ (who no doubt were paid a small fortune to work this out) suggested that schools should teach children to recognise fake news. Schools have been doing this for centuries. The subject dear think tank is called history. It teaches the ability to evaluate sources, to recognise the role of propaganda, to think critically – or at least it should. The very personal brand of history that is family or community history, gives us a sense of self, a sense of place. ‘Lone Tester’ has just posted a very interesting blog entitled ‘Are you a Genealogist or a Family Historian?’ I have long-since realised that ‘genealogist’ and ‘family historian’ have different meanings in different parts of the globe and perhaps the way in which the terms are understood also varies according to how long an individual has been researching. To me, genealogy is the basic family tree and family history is the wonderful contextual background, setting those individuals on that family tree into their time and place.

Whilst on the subject of putting our ancestors in their place, I was pleased to see what a great job Family Tree Magazine made of my article on One-Place Studies in their latest issue – than you Family Tree Magazine.

…. and the latest in the ‘what does Janet not have wrong with her?’ saga – having been x-rayed last week, still no idea. Am I alone in thinking it ironic that I was greeted by the radiographer with ‘Hello, are you all right?’ I was tempted to reply ‘Yes, I’m in full health, I am just sitting around waiting to get zapped with radiation for the fun of the thing’.


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