Tuesday, November 3, 2009

'history now comes equipped with a fast forward button' Gore Vidal 1925

I began researching my family history in 1998 after an elderly great aunt told me the story of her birth. She was not one for speaking of the past but on that day, she offered me a rare glimpse in to her childhood. She was born by the roadside after her mother who was in labour, found the trip in to the nearest town in a horse and buggy too rough.

She went on to tell me how she had run through sugar cane fields bare foot as a fearless young 3 year old despite the snakes that lurked there. With a wistful look in her eye, and passion in her voice, she painted a picture of the high standing Queensland farmhouse that was her home, of an old fashioned laundry beneath the house with nothing but a dirt floor, a copper for washing the clothes in and snakes for company. In the heat of the Queensland summers the snakes crawled up through the floorboards in the house to seek cooler air and her mother, my great grandmother, Lillie Herminnie Nargar, often had to beat them out of the house with a broom.

I listened enraptured as she recounted a story from her childhood. Her mother had gone to visit a family on a neighbouring farm and left the young four year old Dorothy at home with her father. Strong willed and stubborn and decidedly cross that she had been left at home, little Dorothy decided that she, also, was going to visit and took off on a short cut through the sugar cane felds. The cane was at its highest, ready for harvest and full of deadly snakes. She wore no shoes. Several hours later it became apparent to her family that she was lost and a search party was dispatched by her distraught parents. Four hours later, as the sun was setting, over the waving acres of cane, Dorothy arrived at the neghbour's farm, none the worse for her long walk and wondering what all the fuss was about!

I had grown up with a photograph of my great grandmother wearing a Land Army Uniform in our home and I had never even known she had lived on the land! I asked no questions that day and my great aunt died shortly after our meeting. I was left with a fierce longing to know more about my family but both my parents and all grandparents had passed away. If only I had taken an interest in my past earlier.

I had no idea where my mother was born. I knew she was living in New Zealand as a baby and until she was 5 years old from the few photographs I had. I knew nothing of my mother's father as her parents had divorced when she was very young. I had questions swirling around in my head and no one to answer them.

Time cannot be turned back and nothing can replace the stories told by those who own them. In hindsight, I regret that I did not ask my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and their friends so many things, but I am grateful that I live in an age of computer technology. A computer can never tell me how my great aunt ran barefoot through a canefield or how my parents met, but it has helped me to discover who my ancestors were and how they lived. from the facts I find through wonderfully helpful websites such as http://www.ancestry.com/, ,http://www.findmypast.com/ (and many others) I have found the names,addresses, occupations, religions, births, marriages and deaths of manyof my own and my husband's forbears. Not content to stop there, I have also traced their siblings and cousins.

By researching the places where they lived and what was happening in the world at the time they lived, I have been able to build up a picture of the past. Google maps and Google Earth can show us exactly where our ancestors lived. I have 'walked' down the streets and seen the very homes that many of my forbears lived in. History becomes very real when you look at the row of terrace houses where your coal mining great great grandparents lived in Glasgow in the 1800's or the beauty of the grounds of Heaton Hall in Northumberland where my great great great grandfather was the head gardner in the late 1700's.

Along the journey, I have learned some valuable lessons. As useful a tool that the internet is, it cannot ever really replace the 'real life' tales of the past that are past on verbally. These are the real clues to finding out about the lives of our past families. If you gather as much information from the family around you as you can, your computer will take you to places you haven't imagined. In a search for my maternal grandfather, which had been fruitless for some years, a google search of his unusual surname resulted in a match with a Facebook profile. I contacted this person on Facebook who is the son of my mother's first cousin. He lives in the USA but he put me in touch with his parents, cousins, who were previously unkown to our family. After exchanging a number of emails we arranged to meet ( no easy feat as we live in different states). We have since met up on more occasions and have become fast friends. On the way we have taken an amazing journey into the past. The internet has been our main vehicle of transport back in time but we couldn't have made the journey without the help of the memories of surviving relatives. These memories were the 'clues' that led us ever onwards and backwards and especially interestingly to the now infamous Uncle Rex. Rex Morley Hoyes, aka Rex M Morley-Hoyes, aka Rex Morley-Morley, aka Fessenden Charles Rex Morley-Morley, Viscomte de Borenden......

I think that the 'hunt', as we call it, for Uncle Rex has been all the more pleasurable because we have undertaken the journey together. So, for that, I must thank my newly found cousins and friends. As I said before, two heads are better than one......

The internet has led us to newspaper items about Rex's life, his occupations, marriages and divorces, his part played in WW2 and not least of all, his court cases! Even to the death of his sister in law in 1934, the first recorded death to be contributed to slimming pills. http://www.timesonline/ holds a fabulous wealth of information in the archives of the London Times. It is not always possible to visit Archives in person, especially if the family you are researching is on the other side of the world (most are if you live in Australia!) and without my trusty (so far) laptop I would not have taken exciting trips into many National Archives, War Memorials, Museums and Libraries all over the world.

Recently I and my computer ventured into the family history of my husband's uncle by marriage. His background was Norwegian. Now that was interesting! I speak no Norwegian. Norwegians had no fixed surnames until 1923.... and then there's a yacht with a very rude name!....... another story for another day. Sharn

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