It’s now the second week of my work experience placement in the Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine office.
My article was originally published here on the Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine website.
A major collection of probate records has been published by Ancestry.co.uk, spanning five centuries.
History has shaped our existence, as people and as individuals, and it always will. We have inherited lineages that span thousands upon thousands of years. Tracing your roots to understand where you came from is a natural expression of the simple search for identity: to explore, establish and define your link to the past. At the heart of genealogy is having that true sense of belonging; to discover an undeniable and biological connection to your ancestors – the real, human people who helped to form your genetic make-up, your quirks, and every aspect of who you are.
Sometimes, in the midst of stress, panic or despair, it’s hard to remember why we should battle on. Our ancestors, too, were challenged. They faced horrific trials in the brief time they spent on Earth, such as the Great Irish Famine of 1845-52, the traumatic memories of which have been engraved in the history books forever. It must have been excruciatingly difficult to retain faith in the little joys of humanity as they wondered how they would put food on the table, or watched their child die before their eyes.
Placing the past of our ancestors in a socio-historic context like this reveals just how determined and strong they must have been to carry on through the tough times, when it felt like all was lost, when all hope had been extinguished. Crippling poverty ravished the countryside, death tolls rose higher every day and wars between neighbouring countries took young men away from their families. Reading through the records that remain shows us how the past has shaped not only our own families, but the country they called home.
Their ability to overcome the obstacles that they faced to ensure future generations of their family would flourish can only serve to inspire us, their descendants, on the journey of genealogical discovery. Seeing the names of relatives on historical documents such as birth certificates, censuses, ship passenger lists, marriage certificates and death certificates gives a wonderful insight into the lives our ancestors led, the choices they made and the split-second decisions which changed the course of their future.
Modern inventions and technology, particularly the Internet, have greatly aided researchers with the exploration of the past. Manually digging out letters, diaries, old photographs, and gathering recollections and reminiscences from family members, however, brings so much delight when you slowly piece together the extraordinary past of the people you are descended from. These primary and secondary sources are invaluable when you construct a family tree, known as a ‘pedigree’, to map out a factual database of your ancestors and their history. Tracing and documenting your family’s past to preserve it for the generations to come can forge a deeper bond with your living family members. There’s nothing like asking a relative about a name from the information you have accumulated, and seeing the genetic connection light up the room as a relative smiles, laughs and sheds a tear about the family member, recalling the stories of their childhood and old memories that would otherwise have been forgotten.
It is important to remember who, where and what we came from, but it is just as essential that we know there is a future in which our descendants will live. Blood lines will evolve and continue throughout time, family connections will be scattered worldwide and people will die and be born. But our identity, both as a unique individual and as a small part of a massive pedigree, will connect us all.