Family History vs. Genealogy
A family historian can be defined as anyone who takes the trouble to record and document the stories of the older generation in their family; stories that may otherwise be lost. It can be as simple as a child doing a school project. Of course, most families have those old photos tucked away without labels that would mean nothing to the younger generation inheriting them. It really does not have to be more than that.
A genealogist is someone who has been bitten by the “family history bug” (whether it be professionally or as an enthusiastic amateur), becoming a sleuth of family legend, ancient records and social history, to doggedly follow trails where no-one else has thought to tread. This detective work can take on a life of its own, and often takes a lifetime. There are those who become interested in the origins of one surname (one-name study) or the people living in a town or village (one-place study).
Uncovering the Truth
The more you dig, the more you uncover. There were times when many would not want to uncover the past, in case they found murderers, thieves, adulterers or other “unsavoury characters”. Times have changed. There is kudos associated with finding something a little more than the ordinary, that has some significant family, social or historical context. Not everyone can be related to royalty. This is demonstrated by the popularity of TV programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are?
The same can be said about the recent upsurge in genetic testing. Attitudes are changing from keeping family secrets secret to investigating the person who was involved in creating the person you became. Many tests with Ancestry and FTDNA, as two companies providing genetic testing, are affordable; both for fun and for more serious genealogical research.
Connecting the World
When personal webpages became available, I started publishing my family history online as “The Geneal Geologist” in 1998. I was an early adopter of the free-sharing of genealogical information. We are fortunate that a lot of information can now be found freely online. Other records are available through annual subscription, and many more people are online looking to find those genetic or genealogical connections. Facebook is proving to be a useful tool.
There is a lot of personal reward when you crack any case involving your own ancestors, and there have been many over the last 38 years. Then, there are those special moments when your research has, in an unexpected way, made a real difference to others.
1. “The Case of the Missing Father”
One of my one-name projects is published in detail on my website. Quite early on I was approached by the daughter of an elderly man of the surname, who wanted to know if I could find out what had happened to his father, who had walked out on his mother and two younger brothers when he was only three-years old. This happened in 1929, England. Nothing was ever heard of him again.
The uniqueness of the family surname enabled me to quickly locate the individual as having emigrated and resettled in Australia, and that he had served with the Australian military in World War Two. I was able to apply for his father’s military record, which included a photograph taken upon his enlistment.
Sadly, he was to learn that his father was captured by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore and died in 1945, a prisoner of war in a camp on Sandakan, Malaysia. However, following the Australian tradition of recognising their fallen soldiers, there i2.s a park and street named after him in Koondoola, a suburb of Perth, West Australia.
The gentleman concerned died in 2011, having had closure on something that had affected him for most of his life.
2. “The Case of the Centenarian”
The same one-name study provided a focus for a Californian researcher who was trying to learn more about one side of his family. He was surprised to learn that the matriarch of his branch was not only still alive and about to celebrate her 100th birthday, but was also living in California.
He was able to make contact, get an invitation to the centenary party and meet a side of the family he didn’t know about.
3. “The Case of the Half-Siblings”
I was contacted by a woman who was adopted at birth in the 1950’s and had been trying to find her biological parents. Little did I know at the time that she was quite a close biological cousin. She had obtained her adoption records and managed to track down her biological mother, who she was successful in building a relationship with. She was to discover that her mother and biological father had another older daughter, who had been adopted by and raised by her mother’s eventual husband.
She learned that her biological mother and father had never married before going their separate ways just after she was born, but she was told the name of her father. Her searches in England were fruitless, until she spotted his name written in the family synopsis on my website. She wasn’t to know that her biological father has retired to the Mediterranean to account for there being no record of him in the UK. I was fortunate to be able to put her in touch with the three half-siblings her father had after he married, and learn something about him.
There are some other interesting stories from my own family that will be the subject of future posts.
If you want to find out a little more about who you are, or just an introduction, free support is available to guests staying at Ballynoe House.
Mark Grace, Resident Genealogist, Ballynoe House