Tuesday, 27 December 2011

My New Year Resolutions : Hopes for 2012

It is that time of year once again when we sit and reflect over the past twelve months of our genealogical life. We think about what we have found, finished and achieved. We think about those ancestors we are still yet to find, the brick walls we are still yet to bulldoze. We start to make plans anew with a fresh mind and tell ourselves we must get our research notes and papers in some kind of working order. We resolve to make purchases that may aid our quest and we excitedly visit all the stationery shops and departments to find a decent storage unit, box or filing system to accommodate our works. In the back of our mind we think “acid free, archive safe” like a guilt-induced mantra and pray we find something that doesn’t cost the earth or take up too much unnecessary space in our homes.

It is that time of year when we hope the new year ahead will lead us to find that special book, disc, document, certificate, record, register, photograph or heirloom which just may hold the key to all our genealogy mysteries, brick walls, unresolved searches, and “yet to be confirmed” anecdotes. I know I wish for this every year, without fail.

This year I decided to start a blog. I bit the bullet after many years of doubt thanks to some wonderful friends and encouragement from my family. It has been a long time wish of mine to write publicly in some capacity. Having kept private diaries and journals for most of my life and writing many short stories and family letters over the years, I have come to love (and rely on) the satisfaction writing brings me. In the New Year ahead, I hope to start a new historical novel, as well as write a history of my childhood home and also tie up some loose ends with a second edition family history book I began earlier this year. I also hope to share some of my work with a much wider audience, whoever and however that may come to be.

My Family Tree
I began my genealogical life in earnest eleven years ago. Before my daughter was born I merely dabbled in family history, relying mostly on what my grandmothers had shared with me, and a small family tree project I completed for an English assignment at college when I was twenty three years old. Over the past eleven years I have learnt a great deal about my family history, the lives they led, the places they lived and worked in, the families they raised and the circumstances in which they raised them. I have met many online people, related and not, who have shared a wealth of information with me and have kept in touch via email and with Christmas cards. I have enjoyed helping others wherever I could and even volunteered at a genealogy centre for a few years. I have come across countless people online who are more than happy to help me and share what they know, or are more than willing to try.
Nothing, apart from being a mother, has given me more self-satisfaction and self-motivation than researching my family history, and indeed history in general. I never dreamed that people such as Nicholas Crane, Alan Titchmarsh, Griff Rhys-Jones, Tony Robinson and Kevin McCloud could teach me so much about my heritage, my childhood roots, my homeland and my ancestry. I never dreamed that I would end up wanting to write so much about my heritage and share it with others. Once, many years ago now, I dreamed of writing romance novels but I have come a long way since those days!

My prayer for 2012 is to write. Simply that. Of course, I want to uncover that elusive fact, discover that elusive ancestor (see my blog on Richard Humphries) and tidy up my files, collect more old postcards, purchase more local history books...that goes without saying. In the bigger scheme of things I want to write until my hand falls off, my brain is fried, my arm aches and the dust in my house packs a suitcase from boredom.

I will continue to write blogs and keep journals and I will still find the time to jot a short story or three, but most of all I hope to write my second novel. Perhaps I may even share my first novel with the world! Eeeeek! :-)

Happy New Year readers. May you find what you have been looking for this year, last year, two years ago...you get the picture.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Story-tellers Through Time : A Griotte in the Making

When I was trying to come up with a theme for my next blog one thing stuck with me. The origins of storytelling and the many cultures around the world who use words (oral and written), paintings, ceremonies, music and dance, and, in the modern age, film to convey their family history and traditional beliefs.

Photo by Alastair McNaughton
When I came to Australia, on the verge of my teenage years, I was immediately effected by the Aboriginal culture and folklore. I was less interested in the history books about James Cook and White Settlement and more engrossed with the Aboriginal customs and, in particular, their Dreamtime.
The ways in which the Aborigines honour the land on which they live, their spiritual beliefs and their deep-rooted affinity with their people has continually effected me over the years. The family stories they tell, through the Dreamtime or Dreaming, has been altered dramatically with the coming of the White people and many tribes and families, and many traditional Aboriginal customs have been lost or systematically driven out of their daily lives. There are still those today who embrace their ancestral culture and who live day-by-day with their family stories because it is psychologically entrenched within them, and they cannot be expected to ignore what is rightfully theirs.

Madina (Griotte)
Whilst reading Cherry Gilchrist's book 'Growing Your Family Tree" recently, I became intrigued by a passage in the last chapter where she describes the African storytellers. Known as griots (male) and griottes (female), they traditionally sing their family stories and play an instrument known as the Kora. The griots are keepers of family stories, genealogy and histories. The female griotte is known more widely for sharing family stories through song and one well known musician is Madina N'Diaye (pictured right).

In Western societies our ancestors used tapestry, murals and paintings, and in medieval times there were minstrels and bards to tell our stories. Then came the age of stagecraft where men acted out stories in front of a paying audience. Newspapers and books, penny dreadfuls quickly followed and people all over the world began to express themselves through some form of the written word. However, print was not easily accessable or affordable to the working class and humble poor and so the centuries-old tradition of oral storytelling never lost its favour. Opportunities for embellishment meant that the line between fact and fiction were oftentimes blurred!

The family who sits around the fireside listening to and sharing family stories is easily conjured up in one's mind. One such special occasion for me, as a child, was Christmas time. When my grandmother's had enjoyed a nip or two of sherry with their Turkey dinner, their tongues were loosened and many stories were shared and regaled. I loved those times, and still today I try to continue their legacy of storytelling (and not just with the sherry to help me along!).
There are so many opportunities at Christmas to sit down with a loved one or favourite relative and ask them questions. I have bored my own long-suffering parents and aunts with questions about their own childhood memories, and I have notebooks filled with many lovely stories.

I will share one with you here. My mother remembers when her father would bring home the Christmas tree ( a real one of course) and the whole family would decorate it the day before Christmas. On the tree would be small bauble decorations and candles, and even sugar mice! On Christmas Eve the family would sit by the hearth and tell stories and my grandmother would light the candles on the tree.

I would like to close this blog with a message of love and hope for a very merry Christmas to all my faithful readers and all newcomers. Thank you for reading my blogs, and leaving such heart-warming comments. I would like to give my special thanks to my family and to also acknowledge and thank Jo W, Luke, Mike, Angela B, Ann, Lynn H, Emma, Suzie & Rosemary for encouraging me throughout the year to share my special family stories through this blog.