How I Began My Genealogy Search
I guess the research into my family’s genealogy began at my mother’s knee. By the time I left home at eighteen to join the Royal New Zealand Navy, I already had screeds of notes from her stories. I went off to Auckland from the back blocks of Southland equipped to find out so much more than we had ever imagined.
My mother’s people originated from Northern Scotland and the Shetland Islands. My father’s from Kent and Cornwall. Both sides of my family emigrated to New Zealand during the 1870’s.
In the days before the Internet, research was a much more time consuming task. I was about to find out just how long I could spend tracking down one little piece of history. But I never begrudged the time spent. After my initial naval training, I spent a lot of time watch keeping so had time off during week days. This made it possible for me to spend hours at the Auckland Library, and the local Latter Day Saints Family History centre as well as attend a genealogy training course at Auckland university. While I would never suggest my knowledge reached anywhere near ‘expert’ level, I did learn enough to feel like I was achieving some level of success. I learned how to marry details on microfishe films until I had the births, marriages and deaths of whole families. My eyesight learned how to interpret the often unreadable scrawl on census films, which often took weeks to arrive from Australia after ordering. I learned which reference books had the details I wanted eg. of those serving in South Africa during the Boer War (my maternal grandfather).
I jumped about for years, going from one side of the family to the other depending on what records were available to search through. Sometimes I would spend day after day at the family history centre and go home with nothing new. But that disappointment was soon forgotten any time I discovered something new. Those days I’d be floating on air.
There is so much more to researching genealogy than just finding records of your family. For me it is as much about how they lived, what their environment was like as who they were. For example, it was important for me to spend some time learning about life for crofters in the area of Caithness in Scotland where one side of my family originated from. The days my mother, sister and I spent around Wick, Thurso and Watten in 1999 were during a glorious summer. Looking over the land where we knew our ancestors had lived and worked, we wondered how anyone could bear to leave such a beautiful place. Without the added knowledge of how hard life was for crofters, their decision to leave everything they knew to come to a new country wouldn’t have made as much sense to me.
I have long forgotten how to access all those records that gave me the history of my family. And I’ve never managed to figure out those now on the Internet. But I believe my research into the past has gone as far as it is able to go. Because my family were ordinary people with no links to any aristocracy – where genealogy details might go back for centuries – my knowledge of them only go back a little way. The earliest entry we have is from 1711 while most cease around the middle of 1700’s. But my research has given me such a sense of who I am and where I come from. I feel a strong sense of ‘belonging’ when I’ve been fortunate to visit all the family ‘strongholds’ in UK where they lived, worked and died. Seeing their houses, the rubble of their houses or the sections where their houses once stood filled me with intense satisfaction. I have paid my respects at the gravesides of my ancestors laid to rest in Scotland and England.
How much impact does the past have? A huge amount, I believe. So much that went before has had a profound influence over making me the person I am today. But without my interest in genealogy, I would never have known how much is linking to the past.