Are you sure you know who you are?
Damn silly question, of course you do. But with the popularity of television programs like “Who do think you are?” and “Long lost families”, it is obvious that few of us have any real knowledge of our immediate antecedents let alone of more distant ancestors.
When I retired in 1998, my younger daughter suggested that I should write a family history (the inference being whilst I still had the wit) and with the aid of the library and some old Norfolk directories, I managed to cobble together some information of my maternal grand and great grandparents, but of my paternal grand parents other than that their surname was the same as mine, I knew virtually nothing.
They had always been grandad and granny to me as a child and their Christian names and grandmother’s family name were unknown to me.
A few years ago a cousin from my mother’s side of the family got in touch because he had made a start on a family tree and discovered that I was the only family member still alive who could tell him anything about the North Norfolk village where I was born and from which our now diverse family had sprung.
My cousin had used Ancestry software to compile quite a comprehensive family tree and he actually gave me more information about the family than I gave him about the village.
This sparked me off to acquire the Ancestry software and to try to extend my own family’s background.
Once I got to grips with the programme the information literally exploded like an uncoiling spring.
The late 1800s that I already knew about suddenly became the 1700s, then back and back to an era I could barely conceive was available, let alone to be linked to both my maternal and paternal families.
When talking about the growth and content of our family tree I always preface any statement by saying “according to Ancestry”, as even I find it hard to believe that our line pre-dates 900 AD and connects far beyond (“according to Ancestry”) my 36th great grandfather – Alfred the Great.
When we moved into a new house in South Wootton which had a fairly large garden in the 1980s, my daughters suggested that we should excavate the then slightly boggy back garden to search for King John’s treasure and this became a reality when we built our present house in the back garden, sadly only revealing a few old bottles.
By coincidence, and I say again “according to Ancestry” my paternal ancestors include my 24th great grandfather, King John 1166-1216 no less. We haven’t found his treasure yet, but if Ancestry is right I should be entitled to one 24th of it’s worth when it turns up – quite a potentially valuable legacy for my offspring in the unlikely event of its discovery or the even less likely event of my interpretation of Ancestry being correct.
One further oddity and one that I am prepared to believe is that my wife claimed that her paternal family originated from Norwich – no doubt they did in recent times (she was bombed out on Dereham Road during the war), but her father’s origins from around 1720, coincidentally stem from my own home village where my ancestors were blacksmiths whilst hers’ were land agents and landlords (of the village inn).
And she thought she was rescuing me from rural obscurity.
You never know!