It's the BBC's fault. And it was a double whammy. First, there's a new series of Who Do You Think You Are? on the box. I don't think I've missed an episode of the ten series so far, well, apart from the one's that haven't aired yet. And secondly, I have practically ever issue of the accompanying magazine (bar one; damned silly February shipping times!) which, as well as handy tips on doing your family tree and articles on the celebrities in the show, is a cracking read on history in general. And it was the magazine that planted the seed that has just come to fruition.
I've been doing my tree now, on and off, for about five years. I've not really looked at it for a while, but a brief mention of a database of canal workers who lived around Ormskirk in the WDYTYA? mag lodged in my head, and two nights ago thought I would take a look. One or two members of my maternal grandmother's family worked and lived on the canals, so thought I would take a look. What harm could it do? I might find something out I didn't know.
The proverbial floodgates opened (or should it be lockgates? It is about canals, after all?). I have discovered people I never knew existed, and have pushed the Lyon line back another two or three generations, right back to the mid-1700s. And it's been fun. And there's the problem.
It's addictive, this family history malarky. I can now forsee spending lots of time going over my research again, filling gaps, checking and rechecking what I already have, rethinking the method of data storage. It's dangerous. And it can be expensive. Subscriptions to websites, sending off for certificates, pay-per-view documents: it can drain your finances considerably.
But this time, I'm determined. I'm not going to resubscribe to the websites. At best (or worst, depending on how you see it), I'm going to go over my old research, rewrite and condense my paperwork, do a bit of pruning on the tree, getting rid of families that I'm not even related to, but who married the daughter of a son who I am. I got a bit carried away with my original research, and probably thousands of people I can cull!
Geneaology is a fascinating pursuit, and, although most people probably aren't interested in sitting down and drawing up a family tree or doing the research, the majority of people are intrigued or excited my family stories. Every family has them. Some of mine are colourful. Like my great-great grandfather on my dad's mum's side who ran off and joined the circus. Or the distant uncle who committed suicide with a cut-throat razor. Or the great-grandfather who damaged his brain in a motorcycle accident and later tried to burn a house down. Or the part of the family that went over to Argentina to help build their railways. And I could go on.
Every family is full of great stories. The fascination with finding someone famous, or aristocratic, or royal, holds no truck with me. And the annoyance of some people claiming descent from named ancestors without the simple shred of evidence except a shared surname causes me to roll my eyes constantly. The everyday lives of agricultural labourers, the dock workers, the mill-hands, the canal folk: it is these people that I am most attuned to, and excited to find out more about. And it is these people we should be proud of being descended from.
(That said, I am distantly related to Ulysses S Grant, general and President, and a bit of a hero of mine...)